Waterfalls are both beautiful and dangerous. High in more sense than one, people drawn to dive end up hurt, paralyzed or dead. But waterfall swims are hazardous, too. Not only do they expose you to water-borne disease and parasites, but to flash floods and dislodged rock and debris. Even the hiking is sketchy, as evidenced by tourists who recently plunged to their deaths while searching for falls in Kauai. The lucky twist ankles and get ear infections. But five have died at Kipu Falls in the recent past, many have gone missing at the Seven Sacred Pools over the years and a rockfall at Sacred Falls in 1999 killed eight and injured 50.
Blowholes exert a similar fatal attraction. Snapshots from a holiday gone wrong: a man lies across Halona Blowhole. A man leans over and looks down inside. A boy wades in the waters pooled around an entrance. So, what do you get when you put the male gender and a blowhole together? A Darwin Award? (Meanwhile, the families are suing the state.) Take a picture, not a risk.
Lava makes some people go gaga. The eruption of Kilauea is a marvelous sight to behold, as long as that fiery lava doesn’t end up cooking you, hitting you with an eruption-flung rock, collapsing the ground beneath your feet or spewing gasses that send your lungs into spasm. It seems so obvious. Yet there are those who, down where Pele greets the sea, just have to get closer, closer, closer…
Riding in the bed of a pickup truck is the most common and, in my book, absolutely least excusable cause of injury and death in the Islands. The other morning we followed three long-haired beauties riding with their backs to the tailgate, while a smiling Dad drove them at 40 mph down busy Beretania. If the gate fell open, or if he had to stop and someone rear-ended him, or if he swerved and hit a curb and overturned, those girls could’ve ended up dead or paralyzed. So stupid and pointless. But, you know, we love our trucks. More than our keiki, evidently.
THE CREEPIEST WAYS TO GO (ALL OF WHICH HAVE INDEED HAPPENED)
Rat Lungworm Disease: Raw food enthusiasts, hippies and vegans may feel singled out by this, an affliction worthy of Edgar Allan Poe, which comes of accidentally eating slug and snail slime trails on unwashed lettuce, vegetables and papaya. So much for dining straight from the garden! The culprit? Rats, which host and excrete parasitic roundworm eggs, and snails and slugs, which carry around the evolving worms which, when you eat them, swim to your brain. Can we get an OMG? Nine people were infected last year, most on the Big Island.
Falling in the Ala Wai: When a main sewer line broke in 2006, then-Mayor Mufi Hannemann ordered the flow directed into the canal, which already had high bacterial counts and no tidal flush or filtration system. Authorities tried to hide the size of the 48-million-gallon spill, but after a man who fell into the canal died, by all accounts horribly, the cat was out of the bag. Though there was a clean-up, you won’t catch me paddling my canoe there after a rain.
Flesh-eating strep and antibiotic-resistant staph: Yes, Hawaii had its very own case of that favorite of The National Enquirer and the poor victim had no preconditions. Drug-resistant staph is more prevalent, increasingly found in hospitals and among sports teams and in locker rooms. The locus of infection centers is around nicks and turf burns and the usual sport-culture intimacies. The real culprit is promiscuous prescription of antibiotics for the last 30 years, as well as their use in animal feed. Go organic, avoid artificial turf, shower alone and don’t trade towels or socks.
Leptospirosis: Hawaii leads the US in this bacterial infection, usually acquired while swimming in fresh or brackish water. (Yes, those waterfalls again.) Animal urine is the culprit. Symptoms are like a bad flu and fatalities are rare, but documented.
New Disease On the Block: Surfers last winter reported several mystery disorders. One particularly vicious fever and infection put my neighbor in the ICU in a coma for 10 days after a four-hour rainy day session; my wife ended up in the ER. Whether it’s tiger sharks or disease, the advice is the same: Stay out of the water after it rains.
PARADISE OF DEATH-TRAPS!
Nobody wants a nanny state, but at the same time, Hawaii’s extreme or adventure attractions are basically unregulated. For the right price the state will give operators a piece of paper, but it doesn’t mean anybody actually cares enough to check up.
Waikiki Trolley: These have no seatbelts, and nothing between riders and a crash. Because most riders are Japanese, we never hear about most mishaps. But an elderly man was killed this year–flung off–giving a preview of more disasters waiting to happen.
Helicopter Tours: This November, a helicopter crashed in Molokai, killing all five aboard, and nearly missing an elementary school. Be honest: Were you surprised? In 19 years chopper accidents have killed more than 40 people here. Why? Helicopter tours are unregulated, for one thing. Anyone with a certified pilot and chopper can get into the business of ferrying tourists to their deaths. Overpacked schedules accommodate honeymooners who want to ensure that they’ll never look a day older than this, the happiest week of their short happy lives. But even if the FAA stepped in, they couldn’t change our treacherous Hawaii conditions.
Ultra-Light Flying and Para-Sailing: I remember my 75-year-old grandfather’s story of being dragged face-first over the reef and shallows when his tow-boat couldn’t accelerate fast enough. Grandpa was a tough hombre, but still… it’s a wonder anyone would consider doing this. Same for those cliff-defying pterodactyls you see skimming the heights. Motorcyles, mopeds, skateboards: No nagging. Just don’t stick your next of kin with the hospital and ER costs. Get yourself insured.
Ziplines and bungee jumping: Be my guest. Just don’t, you know, lose your head when the stoned 19-year-old dropout to whom you just entrusted your life gets the math wrong.
Scuba Tours: All you need to know was in that movie of a few years ago: although someone has the job of doing a head count, gosh, sometimes they forget. The worst culprits are mass introductory dive packages, called “cattleboats,” operating under time pressure described as “fast and furious.” That’s a description from the one that left a Japanese tourist to die off Waikiki.
Party Boats: Another disaster waiting to happen is those tourists boats that head out every sunset. Not the small catamarans that skirt the reef, and not bona fide cruise ships, although I have nothing good to say about them on cultural and aesthetic grounds. But the proliferation of larger party boats is worthy of scrutiny, because when an accident happens, it usually is catastrophic–witness the 20 senior citizens who drowned when a Lake George, NY party boat capsized in calm weather in 2005. As an old salt who’s taken his share of booze cruises in ports all over the world, I’m not afraid to generalize: Most of these mid-size party boats are unfit to go to sea.
WORST BEACH ODDS
Powerful surf, nasty shorebreak, bad currents and lonely stretches without lifeguards or emergency responders make these our most dangerous beaches. Source: Natural Hazards, The Environment, and Our Communities.
• DT Fleming
• Magic Sands