Kris is lamenting a traffic jam in paradise.
She and her husband recently drove Maui’s Road to Hana, which is 64 miles of hairpin turns around a cliff edge. If someone is barreling the other way or if you just aren’t entirely comfortable maneuvering a rental car over a harrowing, razor-thin one-way road, you stand a very real chance of free-falling into the azure sea below. It’s breathtaking in more ways than one, and Kris says it’s steadily becoming a tourist trap.
Kris is the kind of person who wants to swallow the world whole, and she is a trove of hilarious travel stories. Tonight she is on a roll about all these dang other people swarming everywhere good, making once-pristine wilderness into a constant crowd. “It’s the conundrum of too many people ‘looking at the cool’”, she bemoans. Part of her longs for a time when to find an exotic location of stunning beauty, you had to have a travel agent direct you there, or purposefully look it up at the library. Now the internet can make travel as easy as following a litany of other cars to an overcrowded sight-seeing spot.
Which somehow reminds Kris of another crazy thing Hawaii has been up to lately. “Plus, in Hawaii, they brought in those mongooses? Mongeese? Mongooses. And they thought they were going to take care of the rat problem. But they forgot to find out that mongooses are awake in the day and the rats are nocturnal, so they never cross paths, and now we just get them both. Double the vermin.”
But to its credit, the state of Hawaii may be as irked as Kris when geologic wonders like blowholes formed by volcanic lava tubes become a beacon for daredevil tourists to try to belly flop down wet rocks. This trip, she noticed signs posted near the blowholes deadpanning, “This Is Not a Water Park.”
Kris predicts Venice may be soon lost to this consuming tourism and says if they go back there again someday, she will first try to call up the city itself first to ask, “Is there anyone there?”
So which corner of the globe still tantalizes her?
New Zealand, with its glaciers, its seals and penguins, its stillness. You will feel like you are in a 1950’s National Geographic, she says. You will go to bed at night and suddenly realize you didn’t see another human besides your husband all day. This truly far flung still has the power to make her wide-eyed.
She jokes that to preserve this, she may campaign to cultivate a sort of nation-wide tourism Bar Time in New Zealand, telling all would-be polluters and tourists with blaring car horns, “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.”
Kris understands that, ironically, her own desire “to just look at the earth” is the same one that compels so many of us to travel, and all too soon a secluded jungle trail becomes a rush hour. She knows she’s definitely part of this problem too. If only we could all go somewhere no one else is, we think, but we’d all probably just end up wanting to show it to each other anyway. “Oh no, this was amazing and we told too many people!”
Maybe Heaven will be like a bioluminescent bay we haven’t ruined with our collective body lotion, a Great Barrier Reef we just can’t kill. For now, Kris’ husband John bikes everywhere he can. It helps him slow down and breathe in his surroundings differently. And whenever possible, Kris and John try to trek past the trails matted down by crowds, hiking down farther to find places still wild. She tells me that on a memorable day in Zion National Park, “we went where the cement ended.”
Kris would urge all of us to start there, to see as much of the rarely-seen as possible. (Just don’t all come at once.)