Posted on March 18th, 2013
I’m not the best food planner. This was evident when I decided that a block of cheddar cheese was a wise grocery purchase to keep in my tent during a week of tropical camping. I rumbled into the park on my moped, the sun dipping low out of sight as the island wind rose to a ferocious peak and the sky opened up, dropping a thick blanket of warm rain over the beach. Ripping open my tent flap I threw my body under the canvas just in time to avoid sleeping in a stinking nest of damp, dirty clothing. Pleased with the success of finally having beaten the storm home, a feat I had not yet accomplished as it rained every evening and I was always out roaming, I stripped off my dusty jeans and army crawled over to my food pile, stomach rumbling.
The ‘king of the mountain’ rush of having outrun mother nature deflated as I picked up the gelatinous, oily blob that had been my nine dollar block of cheese. I quietly accepted that I had made poor choices with the dairy plan and moved on to the rest of my rations. The tomatoes were sweaty and wrinkled, partially liquefied in their sagging skins. The avocados weren’t much better–it felt as if they had been churned into guacamole and then squeezed back into their hulls. The apples seemed okay, but after I got through the first layer a delicate infusion of rot began to engage my tastebuds and I realized that the core was hollow and full of mold. The peanut butter had separated to a point where there could be no reconciliation, no peaceful re-merging between the oils and the meats. I went to bed, dry but ravenous, having realized that a hundred degree tent and a lack of cooler didn’t lend itself well to food storage. I would just have to find my sustenance as I went.
I awoke the next morning an hour and a half before the sun. I still hadn’t adjusted to the five hour time difference between my snowy New England home and this sunny Hawaiian escape, and between that and the rain-imposed captivity during the late and early hours, I was on an elderly person’s sleep schedule. I read in my tent by the light of a flashlight pinched between my teeth as the the world outside gusted and screamed, flapping the fabric of my sanctum and giving my book an epic aura that the author would have delighted in. As soon as the first light bloomed over the ocean horizon I stuffed my notebook and towel into my bag, unchained my steed, and quietly rolled past the only other tent in the sprawling, palm strewn fields, navigating by the foggy glow of the moped’s headlamp. I kicked the starter, turned onto the empty road, and roared up the coast as the world lightened around me.
After a few miles I came to a collection of pop-up booths, bustling with the activity of the local farmers who hauled their goods to the main strip to peddle them to the buses full of delighted Asian tourists that swamped the island. I hopped off of my bike and began perusing the array of fruits, nuts, plants, and oily, wax-paper-wrapped baked goods. I plucked a handful of thumb-sized bananas and a soft, fragrant papaya from one table, handed over a couple of crumpled bills and moved on to the next vendor. A minuscule Polynesian woman with a tiny, wrinkled face like a fist walked up to me, her visage splitting into a wide smile and said ‘bread banana?’, holding out a soft block of banana bread. ‘Absolutely’, I replied.
Ten minutes later I was sitting on a breezy, deserted beach, my toes squeezing the sand as I arranged my treasures around me, along with a couple of long green coconuts I had picked on the roadside. I pulled the papaya open with my hands like I was the aged shaman monkey in the lion king and plunged my face directly into the pink flesh, seeds and juice raining down around me. I smashed one of the coconuts open on a piece of the dark, jagged lava rock that poked above the surface of the sea and drank the water from the cracked shell. I ate the banana bread, which was moist and spicy and perfect, as I waded in the surf, searching for sea glass.
This was much better than the Triscuits and cheddar at camp plan. I had momentarily lost sight of the fact that food can make a trip. That eating what is related to the place you are in can make you feel so much more present and engaged in your surroundings. Leaving the barren wintry landscape and coming to a place where everything was in full-season bloom was exactly what I needed to survive the cold stretch of icy months back home. I was grateful to the roasting inferno that my tent became in the mid-day heat for necessitating this change of plans.
During my last night on the island I left the jungle and headed to the bustling tourist trap of Waikiki to be close to the airport for my early flight. I bought a beer and climbed high into a tree, perching hidden above the hordes of people that were moving back and forth between the Sunglass Huts and bland, generic restaurants. I nestled my bag into the branches, leaned against the trunk and took a swig of the Longboard ale, feeling utterly content. I snaked my hand into the side pouch of my backpack and plucked the last little banana from the mesh. I turned down the peel and popped it whole into my mouth, savoring its tang and slightly chalky texture. Tomorrow I would land back in the blistering New England cold, but for now, high above the crowds, chewing a piece of fresh tropical fruit, I felt like I would be warm forever.