VACATIONING IN HELL
. . . .and even some worse places!
"We're very sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Engelhardt, but Hell is overbooked
this month. May I show you a nice leper colony resort instead?"
If Hell doesn't satisfy you,
how about a leper colony?
By JOANNE ENGELHARDT
Have you ever been to Hell? I have and, candidly, its not so hot. I mean, its a bit boring, really, Quite boring in fact. Just one little post office and a yardful of black volcanic rock. And the requisite one or two cheap trinket/snack shops. The post card I bought in one of them said that Hell is only four acres in total!
Lest you think Ive gone completely bonkers, Im talking about Hell, Grand Cayman, British West Indies. Its one of many hot, arid places Ive managed to see while exploring the globe.
When I think back, it is extreme temperatures that have resulted in some of my most memorable travel experiences. Of course, there are times when I asked myself, Why did I bother? I mean .have you ever been to the Salton Sea? Talk about armpits of the earth. Windswept sand, broiling sun and not much to look at but an occasional hearty soul whos decided that its the only place he can afford to live, to heck with the fact that its practically unlivable!
And then theres that distinctly un-British place where they parked the esteemed London Bridge. Im talking about Lake Havasu. Poor bridge--it looks mighty uncomfortable surrounded by shameless shams of British architecture, neon lights and tireless hawkers of boat tours and other commercial rip-offs. Not to mention rows of souvenir shops surrounded by relentless traffic encircled by ticky-tacky houses all in a row! Shakespeare--in fact, ALL Englishmen--should be shuddering.
Did I mention that theres an outlet mall just two blocks away? Did I mention the Ramada Inn just had to call itself The London Bridge Ramada Inn? Did I mention it costs $2 just to park and get out of your car? Did I mention theres an authentic English telephone booth masquerading as an ice cream shop? Oh, and did I mention that its 110 in the shade during half the year?
Not too far away (as several crows fly) is another parched tourist trap: Tombstone, Arizona, billed as the town that is a museum, the museum that is a town. Picturesque is what the tour book promised, and it actually is for about 25 minutes on Sunday afternoons at 2 p.m. when a campy version of a Wild West shootout occurs. After that, theres no there there save for a few restaurants and Indian jewelry stores. And did I mention the heat?
Now Ive been to lots of places in the Hawaiian islands that are exactly as you expect Hawaii to be: light ocean breezes, temperate climate, shorts and bathing suit weather day and night. And then theres Molokai. Molokai in the middle of a draught, even. Chaaaarming. Flying over in a small plane from Oahu, I thought we had made a wide left turn and actually were over the Grand Canyon. Red .I mean dirt red soil. Its a kindness to call it barren.
I got a kick out of the official Molokai website. It said: There's an island in Hawai'i that the world has left behind. A place where there are no buildings taller than a coconut tree. No traffic and no traffic lights.
Sure, our little corner of the island was a green (but not ultra lush) oasis, and it was just a short walk to a sandy beach, so we couldnt really complain. But theres no there here either other than the nearly uninhabited leper colony at Kalaupapa. To get there you must take either a helicopter ride (make that a helicopter death drop that lasts 10 minutes) or an hour on the back of a mule heading south (all downhill). I chose the faster way to sure death and found it wasnt as bad as I expected.
Kalaupapa is the area made famous by Father Damien, and it is one of the only reasons I can think of to visit Molokai. Once we boarded the rickety old school bus for a ride around the leper colony, it was mesmerizing. It helped that we had the colorful (did they get him from Central Casting??) town mayor as our driver. Someone must have had him in mind when they created the definition of curmudgeon. Yes, but fascinating. We stopped at the leper cemetery for a half-hour just so he could tell us all about his relatives who are buried there. Turns out the dusty and nearly deserted little town will soon become extinct, taken over by the state parks organization as soon as the remaining inhabitants die . surprisingly, not of leprosy but of old age.
I saved the really hottest adventure for last. Youre not going to believe that my husband and I were dumb enough to go to Egypt in August when it was a sweat-your-skin off 126 degrees. Some sticky reminiscences:
Sitting on the tarmac in Cairo for an hour before we flew to Aswan on Egyptian Air. I soon discovered that their lovely attendants apparently had never been to the Western-style school of flight charm. We had no AC, not even forced air, and eventually (like within 10 minutes), I felt faint. I caught the eye of the attendant and asked her, Could I have some water? No, she answered and walked off.
In Aswan, we were staying in a rundown hotel with meager AC on the edge of town. We decided to walk the five blocks to town one afternoon, and quickly found ourselves hopping from one patch of shade to another just so we didnt collapse from heat prostration.
Naturally we HAD to see King Tuts Tomb. Guess what? Its in the sun. Well forget that. Well see it next time (riiiiiight).
You cant go to Egypt without seeing one of those spectacular Sound and Light shows. And so we did. But even at 10:30 p.m., sweat poured off our skin and it was really hard to remember why we wanted to be there.
Some day Ill have to round up my coldest adventures, like a Chicago Cubs game in June or walking 30 blocks from my hotel to a theatre in New York City in early December. But .those tales will have to wait for another day.
©2004 by Joanne Engelhardt. The cartoon illustration is from IMSI's Master Clips Collection, 1895 Francisco Blvd. E., San Rafael, CA, 94901-5506, USA.
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