July 9, 2012
You have to drive the north coast of Kauai—Hawaii’s Garden Island—past Kilaueu Falls, the condominium metropolis of Princeville and funky old Hanalei to find Taylor Camp. Once you get to Ha’ena State Park, where the Na Pali Cliffs guard the island’s impregnable west coast, park the car and thrash through the jungle to Limahuli Stream, which debouches from the mountains on a gorgeous beach.
A band of young people came to the same place in 1969, most of them refugees from strife-ridden college campuses and Vietnam War protests. They drifted in from all over the mainland, looking to turn down the volume at the end of the blaring 1960s and pitched tents in a North Shore park, playing beach volleyball in the buff and smoking marijuana, activities that ultimately got them evicted.
Enter Howard Taylor, brother of movie star Elizabeth, who bailed them out of jail and invited them to settle on a beachfront property he owned that had just been condemned by the state. His kindness was also an act of revenge because the state would have to deal with the squatters before they could turn the place into a public park. “It’s your land and they’re now your hippies,” he told officials. After joining the campers for Christmas dinner in 1972 with his celebrated sister, Taylor left them to their own devices.
For the next five years the hippie haven that came to be called Taylor Camp aggravated locals, who had no idea how to cope with their first exposure to the mainland counterculture. At the time, the pineapple and sugar cane industries were faltering and Kauai was enveloped in a sweet dream state, its population dwindling, its beaches still the domain of local surfers.
Semi-permanent treehouses made of scavenged wood and plastic replaced tents at Taylor Camp; a garden was planted, shaped like a mandala; residents started a co-op, built communal toilets, showers and the Church of the Brotherhood of the Paradise Children, where discussion ranged from Kierkegaard to the Tantras; couples swapped partners, babies were born, wild parties and homegrown pot attracted newcomers.
The story is told in a documentary film, Taylor Camp: Living the ’60s Dream, produced by John Wehrheim, who lived nearby in the early 1970s. The lavishly illustrated, accompanying book describes the seven-acre encampment, inhabited by about 100 people in its heyday as something different from a commune. “It had no guru…no written ordinances. It wasn’t a democracy. A spirit that brought forth order without rules guided the community,” Wehrheim wrote in the introduction.
The film is an even more vivid evocation, thanks to interviews of people who lived there, now aging baby boomers with jobs and families who seem no worse for the experience. In fact, most look back on their Taylor Camp days as the best time of their lives, though a seamier undercurrent can be felt in descriptions of the community’s post-halcyon years when hard drugs and rowdy transients arrived.
Many of the mellow, early settlers moved on, though it took the state until 1977 to close the camp down. By then the ’60s were over and Kauai was on the verge of a real estate boom that brought developments like Princeville.
For people who recall flower children with nostalgic fondness, Wehrheim’s book and film are all that remain to tell the story of a serendipitous time and place where a footnote to the history of the 1960s was written. Of course, it would be even better to go back to the North Shore of Kauai, to follow Limahuli Stream to the beach and to lie in the sand, remembering the way we were.
June 11, 2012
Some scholars say Bermuda inspired Prospero’s island in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Others claim it was modeled on the Mediterranean’s Corfu. But I’m pretty sure that the exiled Duke of Milan turned sorcerer in the South Pacific. “Be not afraid, the isle if full of noises,” says Prospero’s woebegotten slave Caliban, a description that admirably suits the island of Huahine about 110 miles northwest of Tahiti.
It’s a mecca for the sunburned, barefoot crew who drop out for a spell to pilot sailboats among the 130 islets that make up French Polynesia. Otherwise, most tourists head for Bora Bora with its fabled lagoon or the diver’s paradise of Rangiroa, leaving Huahine a lazy, slow-lane, off-the-beaten-track South Pacific backwater with only a handful of resorts, a half dozen sleepy villages chiefly populated by mangy dogs and one main town, Fare, where there’s a ferry port, airstrip and hordes of mosquitoes.
Huahine is actually two islands—Huahine Nui, the bigger one, and littler Huahini Iti—connected by a bridge. Both are ringed by skinny sand spits known as motus, where islanders grow watermelons with sweet, yellow meat. The interior is all volcanic mountains carpeted in tropical jungle that can only be broached with machetes, where early settlers, possibly from Samoa, built temples—or marae. Now atmospheric ruins covered in creepers, they are the island’s only tourist attraction, apart from yacht harbors, wild beaches and noises that I started to hear almost as soon as I got there.
I hove-to in a perfect Lord Jim sort of place, the Pension Enite outside Fare, where the room rate included a perfect French Polynesian dinner, headlined by steamed clams, sautéed fish and a half carafe of table wine from Burgundy or the Rhone; oenophiles are lucky for whatever they get on Huahine. My room in a garden-framed bungalow had well-mopped linoleum floors, Polynesian fabric curtains and a slowly circling ceiling fan. Still, it was hot, so I left the door open.
I was in the middle of a Jungian dream about my childhood when the sound of heavy breathing made me rise up from unconsciousness and open my eyes to see two bare feet underneath the curtain at the room’s entrance. Size 3, maybe. Then a little hand reached to the hook just inside the door, where most guests must have left valuables in the past, though I didn’t. My money belt was under my pillow and I still marvel over the instinct that brought me out of a deep, tropical sleep to shriek get out of here in high-school French.
Pat, pat, pat went the little feet, in retreat. The next morning, I told the pension’s unflappable French proprietor about it and found that the little sneak thief had made off with the lower half of my two-piece swimming suit, which I’d left to dry on a line outside. God knows what he wanted with my bikini bottom.
After that a lot more weird things happened to me on Huahine, not least getting chased by a pack of wild dogs on a path leading through the jungle to temple ruins and some misadventures on a motor-scooter ride around Huahini Nui. I could tell you about them, but instead will call to mind what Prospero said at the end of the play: “As you from crimes would pardoned be, let your indulgence set me free.”
January 20, 2012
As the story of the January 13 Costa Concordia disaster unfolds, the spotlight has turned sharply on 52-year-old Captain Francesco Schettino who is said to have abandoned ship—or tripped and fallen into a lifeboat, as he told the Italian newspaper La Repubblica—before all passengers and crew members were evacuated. Schettino has served as a Costa captain since 2006 and comes from a family of ship owners in the Bay of Naples area. People in his hometown Meta di Sorrento, where he was put under house arrest, have rallied around him, and 1,500 fans have supported him as friends on Facebook. The Concordia carried some 4,200 passengers; as of this writing, several have been confirmed dead and a score were reported missing.
The Genoa-based Costa Company was quick to blame him for deviating from authorized course while passing the islet of Giglio just off the Tuscan Coast. In a statement, the company pointed to possible human error on the part of the captain, unauthorized course deviation and mishandling of safety procedures. But questions remain about why standard on-board passenger security drills had not been conducted, and Lloyd’s List Intelligence reports that Concordia last August changed route to pass close by the island, a maneuver approved by the cruise line at the time, prompting editor Richard Meade to ask of the recent accident, “The company‘s account of what happened isn‘t quite as black and white as they presented originally.”
Costa disasters have made the line the butt of jokes about Italian navigation (never mind Amerigo Vespucci, Christopher Columbus and Giovanni Cabot, a.k.a. John Cabot). In recent years these have included a botched attempt in 2008 to dock the Europa during high winds at Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh, killing three crew members, another docking accident involving the Concordia in Palermo the same year, and the collision of the Costa Classica with a cargo ship in China’s Yangtze River in 2010.
None of the earlier Costa accidents figures on anecdotal lists of history’s worst cruising disasters. Industry insurers and trade groups do not keep safety records, though a statement released on January 16 by the Florida-based Cruise Line International Organization calls cruising “one of the safest means of travel among all types of vacationing.” Cruise Critic’s Carolyn Spencer Brown and other industry observers agree about the rarity of accidents at sea but continue to ask questions about Costa’s safety procedures. “This is a wake-up call for Costa, most particularly, but also for any other line that has slacked off on the nautical rulebook.”
I’m sorry to say I wasn’t surprised when I heard that the Concordia was a Costa vessel. In my family, at least, the line has long been synonymous with calamity because my brother was on Costa’s Angelina Lauro on March 30, 1979, when it caught fire at Charlotte Amalie on the Caribbean island of St. Thomas. He and his wife had gone to shore with most other passengers, rented a car and driven across the hills to the far side of the island. On the way back, they saw a header of smoke rising from a ship docked in the port—the Angelina Lauro, a 40-year old Dutch-made vessel that had been refitted for Costa. Stranded with nothing more than wallets, bathing suits, tee shirts and sneakers, completely unassisted by the cruise line, they checked into a hotel, then flew home. It made a good story, especially given that both of them were newspaper reporters. But after the ship was declared a total loss they spent years trying to get compensation for their belongings—they ended up being reimbursed for 50 percent of the value of their belongings—and ultimately cheered when the Angelina Lauro sank in the Pacific on its way to Taiwanese scrap yards.
Unlike the Angelina Lauro, the Concordia was a new, state-of-the-art cruise ship with no known defects. Which leaves two avenues for inquiry: the captain whose role in the disaster is already well-known, and Costa which has deflected heavy criticism, as yet.