Last morning in Hawaii and I'm on my own in a downtown Kona hotel room. Deep blue waves lap the shore just across the busy street. A mower nips away at the lawn while the air conditioning unit sunk in the concrete brick wall maintains a steady hum. 9 AM and it feels like a hot, still day ahead.
Missed photo opportunity:
Big bus adventure:
The rest of the family left a day before my flight. I had no car and needed to get from Waikoloa to Kona (about 30 miles). I asked the concierge at the fancy resort where I was hanging out the best way to get there.
"You need a reservation for a shuttle. Too late now, all booked up. Taxi cost you one hundred bucks. Better to take the bus. Only two bucks."
I asked him where the bus stop was. He waved in the general direction of the elegantly manicured, plumeria lined street. "Down there, at the next stop sign." I asked him if there was a sign I should look for, or maybe a bench. He shook his head. "Nope, just wait by the stop sign. Bus should come along soon."
Lucky for me, there was decent shade along the green strip between the road and miles of shimmering, unforgiving black lava as far as the eye could see. Lucky for me, an older man and his adult son came along, laden with bags and beach gear.
"Waiting for the bus?" he asked, "Airport?" A reasonable guess given my roller bag, which I was using as a chair, and the stuffed backpack beside me. "Kona," I said, wiping my damp brow. "This the right stop?"
It was. He asked me where in Kona I was headed. I said downtown. He squinted and asked me where downtown. I said a hotel. He asked which one. I pulled out the slip of paper I'd written the name and address on and showed it to him.
"This bus won't get you there," he said, shaking his head and mopping his own tanned brow. "Ask the driver for a transfer. You need to get off at Walmart. Cross the street and wait at the opposite corner for another big bus like this one." He shifted in his flip flops, sliding one foot free, then the other, to wipe sand from the bottoms of his feet, brushing them against ropey, muscled calves. He frowned, deep in thought. "No, not the Walmart, you should get off at the courthouse. Wait there for the small bus. Take you right behind your hotel. Back entrance."
He'd been a tour guide back in the day and knew every hotel and restaurant, and, seemingly, every bus route, stop and transfer point. I was grateful. I didn't even have to ask the driver for a transfer. My new friend did it for me and made sure the driver knew to let me off at the courthouse.
The bus was big, with plush blue seats and air conditioning. The handful of passengers on board had a full row each. The route took us away from the highway a few times, picking up a person here, a person there, at two of the resort areas, and beside an industrial complex.
I hobbled off at the courthouse as directed. Checking my location on Google maps, I deduced I was about a ten minute drive from my hotel. The "small bus" pulled up a few minutes later. I went through a similar Q and A with the driver. Kona? Where downtown? What hotel?
"Yeah, I get you there," she said, with a deep-throated laugh. "But it's gonna take a while." I asked how long. "Oh, maybe an hour. They should have told you I have couple more stops before I get to Kona."
The route took us back up the highway, backtracking for miles, then winnowing off the highway into the hills, stopping at a college campus, an apartment complex, beside another cluster of industrial buildings. 45 minutes later, we turned round and began moving in what I figured was the right direction for town.
"Not too much longer," she said. "It's a long ride for you." I'd learned all about the protein bar she'd eaten for lunch. It was super filling but tasted awful. She likes that brand, well, the green drinks anyway, but not that bar, which was really bad. In Kona, traffic along the main drag, up against the ocean, was stop and go. Unbothered, my good-natured guide kept up a nonstop patter about where I should eat, where to get the best mud pie, the best lava cake, the best coconut cake.
"I'm a dessert girl," she said, rubbing her belly. I conceded that I have a bit of a sweet tooth myself. At that admission, she redoubled her efforts to point out the eateries, noting which were new, which she'd eaten at before, when she hadn't had a chance to try, which were known for their sweets. "Oh-oh," she said, glancing right, then left, as if she'd just realized where we were, "I was so busy talking, I drove past your hotel already." At the next stop sign, she motioned me forward. "Just walk back a few blocks. It's on the left."
"On the left, back the way we came," I repeated, wanting to be sure.
More laughter. "Well, my left—your right." Which made sense, the ocean would be on my left.
"Best place for dinner, right there," she said, pointing at one of the restaurants alongside us, as I stumbled down the steps, my suitcase bumping behind me. "On the water, it's very nice. Great cheesecake... I think that's the one with the cheesecake. Oh, I don't know." Her cheery laughter receded as the doors closed.
After two and a half hours—less than a buck an hour for the ride—I had arrived in the general vicinity of my hotel.
Googling the location of the Walmart I realized that if I'd taken the first bus all the way there, it would have been about a 15 minutes walk to my hotel, and, I could have perused a Hawaiian Walmart! I imagine my helpful tour guide friend figured an old, white haired lady like me, encumbered with luggage and wilting in the humidity, wouldn't have been up for that.
"It's downhill," he'd said, with a worried frown. "Too steep. You need to get off at the courthouse."
Maybe he was right. By day's end my knees and ankles were wobbly. Besides, all's well that ends well. Mahalo, my friend.
Dorothy, author of GRAY IS THE NEW BLACK, blogs about the challenges and opportunities of being a woman and a writer of a certain age in a youth-centric universe.