The Comedic Snorkelers of Kauai

Previously, when we’ve dipped our senses into another world, it was while being firmly rooted in our own. Peeking into the aquariums and viewing areas so painstakingly built for us by the ecologists and marine scientists, I always sent a wave of gratitude to those who enabled these magical moments. 

Snorkeling for the first time in an ocean was mind boggling.

It was with excitement and trepidation that we stood there listening to the instructions from our guide. Contrary to most snorkelers in the region, we were not experienced swimmers. As we slipped our feet into the paddles, a gurgle of hilarity hiccuped its way up and the children & I exchanged glances and started laughing. We did look ridiculous.

Getting a peek into the world of the ocean has always been a dream. Reading essays such as the Enchanted World by Gerald Durrell made the desire stronger.

Any naturalist who is lucky enough to travel, at certain moments has experienced a feeling of overwhelming exultation at the beauty and complexity of life

But there is one experience, perhaps above all others, that a naturalist should try to have before he dies and that is the astonishing and humbling experience of exploring a tropical reef. You become a fish, hear and see and feel as much like one as a human being can; yet at the same time you are like a bird, hovering, swooping and gliding across the marine pastures and forests

Gerald Durrell – Golden Bats and Pink Pigeons

While it had been so easy to slip our flippers on and off on land, the moment we had gentle waves lapping against us, simple tasks became a comedic trial of incompetence. I was glad to see that experienced swimmers struggled just as much as we did with this task. I may have smirked, and if I did, who could blame me.

As we moved on looking into the waters and observing the fish, there were moments when the flippers propelled us forward, and moments when the lungs rebelled with the excessive sea water that we were drinking in with each breath.(It takes some time to find the right degree, adjust the valves etc).

Whether we were watching the fish, or they were watching us was a philosophical question for I felt the fish swim by in delight and make several loops and gags around us. Schools of them – probably curious, and laughing at our inefficiency with the waters.

The fish frolicked, the humans shuddered; the schools of fish glided and gurgled happily while we sputtered and choked; the fish changed direction seamlessly while we struggled. If we entertained our piscine friends, I am happy. 

Several minutes into our dip and frankly embarrassing foray into the ocean, our guide came gliding up like a fish himself and signaled us towards a large turtle (she-turtle he said), and we nodded. “It is illegal to touch a turtle these days, but you can see it from afar.”

We changed course (which is to say we all spat out some sea water, gulped some air and water, sputtered some more and set out in the approximate direction) flipping those comical looking flippers hard. And there, right in front of us was a large turtle with elegant fins swimming graciously in the waters. For those brief moments, we weren’t bumbling sea-water drinking sputterers lost in the ocean, but mesmerized and equally graceful spectators to one of the most elegant creatures on the planet.

This was magic. Days afterward, I can flash back in my mind to that clear image of the turtle with its large fins swimming on by us. A face structure that enables it to look like it is smiling and amused with life, the turtles smooth motion as it cut through the choppy waters of the Pacific Ocean was amazing.

How do bone structures, ligaments, tendons, and all the things that hold an organism together evolve by design to function thus? What marvelous creatures sentient beings are? Nerves, neurons, cells, tissue, blood, ligaments, flesh and bone- but all of this coming together to become thinking beings with intent.

I obviously have been looking for pictures of all that satisfies this marine curiosity ever since. My curiosity was rewarded by this book :

The Art of Instruction – Vintage Educational Charts from the 19th and 20th centuries

The pages indicate the anatomy of many marvelous creatures. 

The Anatomy of a Sea Turtle isn’t in this book, but the pictures of jellyfish, cuttlefish, herring fish, starfish, whales and numerous other fascinating creatures makes it a marvelous book to peruse.

Starfish anatomy

For the Sea-turtle anatomy: This is  a useful link

Smithsonian Sea-turtles

What an enormous wonder it is to be a sentient, logical, and functioning being in this complex world? For that one marvelous dip into the world of the sea creatures, I am grateful beyond words can describe.

The Light of an Island

The week at Kauai in Hawaii was beautiful. During the days afterward, the little island images would flit in and out like waves on a beach. Sometimes the imagery so powerful that they would refresh and restore from afar. The turtles would swirl in the ocean waves, the turquoise waters would gently lap the golden sands, or splash against the rocky beaches, the birds would chirp merrily, and every now and then the school of fish or that large turtle- would flash up an image from the reefs below. 

The flowers of the island, Leilani pua would gently sway in the ocean breeze, the sounds of the rains that were difficult to predict and never long to endure would patter into one’s consciousness.

The general light of the island would be suffused into the surroundings. 

As life settles into its usual routines, there is a rose-tinted tinge to the world that is slowly but steadily fading. I now have to recall the turtles, as opposed to them showing up unannounced. I cling on though. 

Looking back at the pictures from the vacation,  I realize that tropical  island vacations have a timbre and light that is wholly separate from the rest of the world. Who was that who said that No man was an island? Imagine a world where each of us is an island. 

It reminds me of the picture in the book, Imagine a Place – By Rob Gonsalves whose paintings in surrealism are nothing short of brilliant. 

Imagine a place…

Where your ship holds

All you once knew

And the horizon offers

All you will ever need

(Words from the book, Imagine A Place – Words By Sarah L Thomson, Images by Rob Gonsalves) 
Imagine a Place – by Rob Gonsalves, words by Sarah Thomson

I stop to admire the roses, and compare and contrast their multi-layered rose-scented beauty with the elegant and highly simple-structured plumerias in the Hawaiian islands. 

How complicated and simple life can be – and how beauty to be found in both aspects of life. 

The island doesn’t leave you, and it seems to remind me of the importance of the solitude and refreshing nature of this little island in oneself, to be pulled up at will when life tugs you in every which way. 

🐓 🦆 🦢 Akua Manu 🐓 🦆🦢

Almost as soon as one lands win the quaint island of Kauai, the unmistakable feeling of rural bliss welcomes you with the rooster crowing. As one fellow traveler put it, the roosters of Hawaii are like squirrels everywhere else. They are everywhere, and probably contribute to the seeding and flowering of the habitats near them in myriad ways. 

They ducked and weaved through the airport traffic, just as surely as they waddled into the fragrant plumeria flowers flitting down from the trees above.

The roosters there sure have a comical element to them. Moana’s Hei-Hei could have been a real life characterization of any of these birds.

Hei-Hei of Moana Fame

The children sat inside the car cackling and laughing as I ran out into the parking lot ahead of me to shoo the birds away as the languid car trundled into its spot in the parking lots. Sound effects included: baaackk—buck-buck-buck….shoo-shoo-duck-duck-goose, nene-nene-nene with an inspiring arm flailing and running after the birds. 

“Just one video of this ma! “ said the teenage daughter and niece to many enthusiastic nods from their little brother. I joined them in the laughter but refused to star in a video like this. One has one limits – even if it is to entertain our fellow human beings.

“I love birds too much and these birds seem to be so – I don’t know, bird-brained! Huh! Is that where the term comes from? Makes sense. These birds seem to think the roads belong to them and they sit there – pecking at whatever it is on the roads!” I said.

Just as engaging as the roosters are the red breasted cardinals, the nene (geese), cattle egrets, starlings, mockingbirds, plovers, sandpipers near the beaches , and the marvelously inspiring long-tailed tropicbirds. 

Standing atop the viewpoints of the Waimea Canyon in Hawaii, the long tailed tropic birds gained our attention and admiration. Gracefully traversing the yawning canyon below them in swift smooth flights, these birds seem to fly in and out of rainbows 🌈 . If that isn’t magical I don’t know what is. 

It is no wonder that Hawaiian folktales are so rich with their imagery of birds and ocean animals.  

Every morning, as the sunlight crept in through the clouds, and ushered in another surreal day in the magical islands, The Hawaiian state birds, Nene as the geese there are called, did  their bit and squawked their way into our consciousness as well. 

Some nights I would wander outside to stand under the stars when I’d notice groups of nene sleeping under the stars. ✨ Seeing them under the stars like that made me slightly envious I must admit.

Whether it was the beautiful darting and elusive ‘i’iwi (hummingbird -like creatures that are endangered) or the common roosters, starlings, egrets, cardinals, and nene, the birds (Manu) of Kauai have a divinity (a certain Akua) about them that make you want to soar in spirits with them. 

One morning I caught the daughter sounding very much like me and chastising her little brother who was watching Marvel on the television. “You come to Kauai and watch these super-hero fellows again – no! Nuh-uh! Out!”

“But there is nothing now – just eating breakfast and watching TV!” came the wounded reply from the budding naturalist. But his sister was firm and switched off the television.

The fellow came into the kitchen, and I shushed him, for out on the verandah was a small, and elegantly regal-looking red-breasted cardinal. We watched the bird in awe for several minutes before our spell was broken, and we sighed contentedly and went about the day.

If naturalists go to heaven (about which there is considerable ecclesiastical doubt), I hope that I will be furnished with a troop of kakapo to amuse me in the evening instead of television.

Gerald Durell

The Enchanted Turtles

We are back from a beautiful few days in Kauai, Hawaii.

There is something about the light and sights of an island paradise that always amaze me. Even the darkness seems to be scented by a different tint of light (could it be that the surrounding oceans make for darker skies and the magical stars spread their light more?)

As Gerald Durrell says about the island of Corfu in his writing:

“Gradually the magic of the island settled over us as gently and clingingly as pollen. Each day had a tranquillity, a timelessness, about it, so that you wished it would never end. But then the dark skin of night would peel off and there would be a fresh day waiting for us, glossy and colourful as a child’s transfer and with the same tinge of unreality.” 

Gerald Durrell, The Corfu Trilogy

One morning, two days into our vacation in the Garden Island, Kauai, we decided to have a slower morning. We had been rushing and ticking sights off our list ever since we arrived. So, that morning, we lolled and strolled nearby. A tourist magnet like Hawaii doesn’t have too many hidden gems, but walking through the streets has gems enough. We strolled to a nearby lagoon or bay with some rough hidden spots. We sat on the rocks watching the waters slosh into the rocks below. There is something surprising every time we stop and still our senses. 

10 minutes into sitting on the rocks and watching the waters below was enough. We spotted 3 large turtles almost all at once. The children and I squealed at the turtles 🐢 swimming and sloshing in the rough waters below. To see a large sea turtle in the ocean is a gift few get, and even fewer appreciate. As for us, we were thrilled. 

The delight and serendipity of a sight like lit the world around us. Even now, when I close my eyes, I can see the magnificence of the sea turtles coming up, looking around and ducking back in with the waves. 

That afternoon, a helpful lady at the resort told us about a hike in a mahogany forest, and off we went. Through the forest, with the sun light filtering though the green canopy overhead, there was a diversion marked ‘Enchanted Forest’. How could one resist a path marked thus? Off we tread into the enchanted forest then, and enchanted it was. There were clumps of touch-me-nots every few feet, and the quiet of the forest only interspersed with the chittering of the exotic Hawaiian birds was magical.

That evening, as I closed my eyes for the night, the turtles came unbidden to wish me good night – sloshing and rolling in the tumultuous waters of the bay. I clutched the firm  bed, made probably of mahogany wood, and couldn’t help feeling a sense of gratitude for the enchanted turtles and forests that bless our days on Earth.

“I walk in the world to love it.” – Mary Oliver

Honk, Pip or Beep: Listening is the Key

To fully chalk up my story of honking, I must take my readers back about 15 years. In those days, I was a proud owner of a two-wheeler: a slender, sleek thing maroon in color. Imagine a maroon banana slug with wheels and you have my Hero Puch. The father had his own bulky, husky two-wheeler that he unleashed noisily on the streets ( you may read our two-wheeler chronicles here) . He thinks he has not done his duty of conscientious driving if he does not honk every few minutes. Obviously, it was a lesson he sought to teach us all. Every time I remembered his advice on the two-wheeler, I would honk and redeem myself as the good daughter in his eyes.

One time, he took my Hero Puch for servicing and had the horn changed on it. He told me over dinner that day, and I nodded absent mindedly. The next day, I started off on my Hero Puch looking like a weasel on a banana, and made off.


I was nearing a bend where everybody honked and thinking that I better do my duty too, I honked. What happened next surprised me so much, I almost fell off my own vehicle, and I caused a number of folks in front of to trip over themselves too, and they cleared enough space for a bus to pass through. The honk that the banana-shaped slip of a thing emitted was that belonging to a truck. A long, loud trumpet of a sound signaling a mammoth tusker on a high speed monster truck. I still remember folks giving me an annoyed smirk on what they clearly thought was a low trick. I must say I was rattled too. There is, of course, a story behind the horn change. Something to do with the-father-trusting-the-mechanic. (The last time he trusted a painter, this happened:

The point is, in the intervening years, I have not used the horn as much.  Sometimes, I fumble to see where it is when I do have to use it on the person backing out without seeing me. Imagine then, that of all the new experiences that I got to enjoy in Hawaii, honking was one of them. There are many road trips in this beautiful place that have one lane paths and turns.  I read a blog post that warned us about sharp curves,  and many places in which it is prudent to let fellow drivers know that you are coming. This is one of the places in the US where you can lean out the car window, wave enthusiastically to your fellow drivers, and give them a thumbs up sign and honk and let them know you are coming on the bridge. I was one enthusiastic but not very effective let-them-know-er. Gone are the years of my ambitious honking, what is left now is an apologetic honker. I go h-h-ho-honk and a pip of a honk emanates from the car. You need to have the honking attitude and I had lost it.

I was telling the husband and kids all about this and my dear Puny Puch sounding like Superman while driving along merrily peering into some canyons on the way.


Up ahead, was one of those infernal turns again. My head full of my Puny Puch’s horn, I honked to let folks know I was making my way through and kept going. I had my windows rolled up and wondered why it sounded like the bull-horn my Hero Puch let out all those years before. Funny how the memory of a thing can bring so vivid a recollection huh?

I rounded the corner and only just had the sense to step on the brakes like my life depended on it (well it did).  There I was face-to-face with a bull-dozer sized bus on a ribbon bridge. The problem was that I had thought so much of letting others know, I had not taken the trouble of listening to the bus driver’s honk.

That big honk was the one belonging to the hulk of a bus. Valuable lesson learnt: Honk, Pip or Beep, the key is to listen.

Who says there is no joy in honking? Sigh. Continue reading “Honk, Pip or Beep: Listening is the Key”

The Meditative Glaze

The lark does let me win sometimes. I can’t deny that I love the early morning snooze in. I am not one of those birds who sit up in bed chirping happily. I like to squirm about the nest and cheep rather groggily before nudging in to my day. Yet, there are days when I get up before dawn cracks over the horizon and those days, I don’t like to waste indoors. I want to boast to the world that I am up, I am embracing the day. Most days in Hawaii during our recent vacation, I was up to welcome my day with a smile and a walk. It was our first day in Kauai, the Garden Island. While there, our apartment had a partial ocean view. What that means is, that if you are tall enough and know how to crane your neck in a Z-shaped angle, you will be able to see the ocean. Early on our first morning, I went a-walking. I inhaled the fresh sea air, I looked up at the lightening sky and admired the hues. I thought of how an artist would capture that moment, and how despite the many, many paintings of a tropical beach, there are few that can truly capture the essence of being there. How do you make a painting breathe? How do you make a photograph scent the salted air, or listen to the crashing sound of waves. I found that I could not stand still, I needed to do something, and so I did. I walked. I must have walked quite a bit for the sun had risen and I decided that no matter how lax peoples’ standards are in the dressing department in Hawaii, I could not pass off my nightie as formal wear for too long into the morning. So, I headed back to our apartment.

If there is a fault with my early morning walks, it is that it puts me in a loquacious mood. I want to share my energy and relive the scenery and all that boot. As I headed back home, I remembered that the husband rashly took it upon himself to meditate first thing in the morning, so maybe I will find him quietly contemplating the wonders of the world.

Aha! Just as I thought: I turned the corner to see the husband there on the porch in our apartment. I was dying to share the exhilaration of the morning air, and waved to him at the rate of 38 mph in the clockwise direction and 32 mph in the anti-clockwise direction . At first, I thought he did not notice me. For there was no reaction from him, though he clearly had his face turned towards me. It must be the meditative glaze. So, I hollered my best “HI!” – I modulated the pitch so that it could be heard over the sound of the waves and simultaneously broke into a run to better conquer the lawn between self and the porch.

If there was an Indian movie director at the time, he could have gotten the perfect shot of a less-than-glamourous, slightly disheveled heroine running in slow motion through the lifting mists, and plugged it into any of his movies. Obviously one expects the hero to do his share. I mean, one doesn’t expect him to stand around while the heroine does all the work right?

You could have thrown a blade of grass at me and knocked me down at what happened next. The man turned and scuttled off inside like he had never seen me before. The nerve!


But, I must not be too harsh on the poor man, for it turns out that he had never seen me before. I was rushing through the wrong lawns and waving and Hi-ing to  the man of the house at Building 2N when I should have been hollering at the man in Building 1N. I forgave the man his impudence and went on with a dignified gait to see the man I loved at Building 1N. I needn’t have worried. My man was there neatly tucked in bed, transcending that beautiful world of dreams and dreaming of meditating while looking at that ocean. Or maybe, the meditation had sent him to his dreams again.

Whatever it was, the world was in its right place and I marched out again to sip a cup of water before the household awoke.

The I-Miss-Hawaii Craving

We are just back from a wonderful trip to the vowel islands of Maui and Kauai in Hawaii.  Our eyes only need to close to pull up those magnificent beaches, trails and lookouts. We are not quite ready to be back in our zone yet, and sigh wistfully of the many things done and to be done on subsequent trips. (I can see the husband rearing up and saying ‘What?!’ )


Whilst there, one early morning, the husband and daughter decided to go snorkeling in the ocean with a boat full of people, while the toddler son and I were left hovering on the shores waving goodbye to the adventurers in life vests. The boat turned and chopped its way out to sea. I glanced at the watch: the time was only 7:30 a.m. after all the elaborate goodbyes. I turned around to the son and said, “Hmm. Shall we go and have some breakfast and take a long walk?”

The son threw his arms up in the air and said, “Yeah! Oaks!”

Now, before you kindly point out to me that Oak trees are not endemic to Hawaii, ( I would like to clarify that what the son is referring to is not the Oak as in tree or shrub in the genus Quercus (/ˈkwɜrkəs/;[1] Latin ) “oak tree”. He is referring to Oats as in Quaker Oats to be slurped down with milk for breakfast. My little man there wants his nourishment, not like the daughter, who will willingly go on for three days smelling a wrapper of chocolate, every few hours,  as sustenance . The son wants his meals. He is clear. He may not eat much, but he needs his nourishment on time.

I laughed and told him we may not be able to get oaks, but how about something else?

Idli mammum!” he exclaims. ( 

I tell you, you can take a South Indian to Hawaii, but you can’t squash the idlis out of him. I assured him, I will find something that he likes to eat and we got going.

I looked around for a coffee shop.

Seeing none, I made towards a store that had Whales displayed in the windows, because I thought the large animals would fascinate him, and I could ask for directions to a good coffee place there. We were near the store when he saw something that made his heart soar. The whales may be fascinating, but the thing that got the son’s attention was a packet of chips he calls Red chips (Doritos). “I likes this chips Amma” he said beaming. The whales can wait, but these chips, not a chance, he seemed to be saying. I know a good thing when I see one and promptly got him a packet of chips. He was a merry, content being for the time being and the pair of us browsed through the store.

We grazed among the trinkets and stood admiring paintings and books on whales, dolphins and oysters. We even stopped to admire the cuddly, plush toys laid out in perfect order. I picked up a couple of knick-knacks as gifts and stepped over to the counter when the old man behind the counter told me that I had the most adorable child in all of the population that ever visited his little trinket store. I was surprised. Really? Well, okay. If he was going to give the compliments without prodding, who am I to resist? Apparently, other children his age routinely created havoc with his merchandise. I smiled politely. It was nice of him to say so. “Especially little Indian boys!” he said shaking his head sadly. I was taken aback. What did he mean by little Indian boys, but I let the generalization pass, and smiled at him. “This boy has a disciplined and focussed mind.” said the man with a smile.

I looked down at the son, his forehead wrinkled in concentration at trying to extricate the next chip without chipping off pieces and straightened up to face the man and thanked him for his kind words.

I didn’t tell him the role the packet of chips had played in the focus-and-discipline part. Some things are better left unsaid. 

PS: The idli craving was only met after we came back to our home and launched ourselves at the menu at Saravana Bhavan. The I-miss-Hawaii craving can only be appeased when we go there next, what?!



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