Travels with Bernie

Come with me and read about my travels with Bernie…

You’ve got to read it to believe it!

Hawaii: A River’s Tale

April 1991

         I wasn’t a good swimmer and felt inept at handling a kayak, but it made no difference. My pilot could do both. “Let’s sign up for a kayaking tour,” Bernie said. “You can do it. Trust me, you’ll love it.”  OK, I agreed. We were on vacation in Hawaii, and I wasn’t going to spoil his fun. The last time he’d been in Hawaii was on his way to Vietnam in 1965, but I’d never been before. 

         I was drawn to the sweet smell of the Plumeria blossoms coming from the tall plants around our hotel. Yes, this place was paradise. The plant’s delicate flowers were used for necklaces called Lei’s, and I had to have one before we left.  The beauty surrounding us seemed a harbinger of things to come. 

         We greeted Janette, our guide, along with our kayak-tour mates, who were mingling beside Janette’s disheveled van. “It’s only 10 minutes to the Hulah Tui River,” she said, as we squeezed in. Perspiration found me as we bounced around on our way to this mysterious destination river, a location that had drawn film crews to its exotic shores for many years.   

         When our leader gave us the history of the river, I realized that we’d be paddling down the very waterway that led to Indiana Jones’s escape in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Our hero, Indiana, bolted through the jungle ahead of a tribe of blood thirsty natives, splashed out to his friend Jacque’s seaplane, and poured himself into the cockpit for the take off. Phew! I immediately felt akin Harrison Ford and left my qualms about kayaking back on the bus as we stepped out to meet our fate.         

We met the river and gathered for instructions, then chose our kayaks. Bernie held me steady as I awkwardly sunk down into my cockpit. “You got it, Kiddo,” he said giving me a thumbs up. Out of our 20 kayak tour companions, I knew Bernie must have been the only one who’d kayaked as a kid growing up along the shores of Chicago’s Lake Michigan. I felt safe following him as along the river, even when he departed from the others to enter a vine covered entrance to a grotto he’d spotted along the river’s edge.  Might be cool in there, I thought. 

         “Come with me,” Bernie motioned, and I did, bending over to glide beneath the prickly, creeping vines, as we paddled around the waterside jungle under clusters of guavas handing from trees. I looked for snakes among the branches but saw none, and quickly realized we were alone in this watery secret garden, surrounded by jungle foliage, exotic tropical birds, and swinging vines–like Tarzan used, and the one Indiana grabbed that landed him in the river and to safety. By this time, my imagination was in high gear.

           When my paddle caught on a vine, my kayak took on water, but I had the presence of mind to stay upright. I swished the cool water around my legs and onto my face and arms while I thought of Katherine Hepburn suffering through the boggy waters aboard The African Queen…her wilted hair and those water-logged clinging dresses.

         I heard Jan yell from the middle of the river, “Refreshment time.”  We lined up your kayaks side by side across the water and put a leg into our neighbor’s kayak to hold the line. Our hostess passed down sliced pineapple, bread, cheese, and juice. A pina colada would have been perfect, but then, there would be plenty of time for that later. 

         We made our way down the last 3 miles of our river journey–a calm slice through rugged green and lava sided mountains. The trick was going straight. It wasn’t’ so easy. Janette told us the legends of the mountains and the fishing pool that was built by the “little people” the Menehune, who were the mythical/highly controversial pygmies who built the temples and roads before the Polynesians came. 

         At the end of our river journey, our intrepid guide led us up a rocky bank into a sugar cane field, where the tall stalks brushed our exhausted bodies as we plodded through, row upon row.

          Weary travelers all, we finally reached civilization, where we met Janette, and handed our paddles to her helper who stowed them in another vehicle. Bernie and I stopped to take stock of ourselves: Two happy adventurers with soggy hats, clinging clothes, and smiles we couldn’t control. What a lark!  

         I smiled when Bernie turned to me and said, “I knew you could do it.” Yes, I was proud of myself. I felt renewed by the experience and eager for another adventure. 

         They were waiting for us, the beat-up old van with tired kayakers aboard. And there, sitting on the back bench seat I spotted Harrison Ford, wearing his brown Fedora felt hat and that crooked little grin. 

         That iconic hat became known as the Indiana Jones hat, and I was delighted when Bernie bought one before we headed home.  

         Our grandkids were surprised when we told them about our river trip. Raiders of the Lost Ark was a favorite movie of theirs. After a while, Bernie lost interest in the hat. It sat on our closet shelf until the day our 8-year-old grandson, Matt, was tall enough to poke it down and put it on. It sank low on his forehead, but he didn’t care. With one of his grandpa’s belts as his bullwhip, he’d entertain us while we sat in the living room, cracking his whip at those imaginary snakes on the rug. 

         Many years later, and after my pilot died, I was preparing to move to New Jersey when I decided to give Bernie’s fedora hat to Matthew. He was delighted. As for the memories that went with it, I’d take those along with me. 

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