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"Aloneha!" Or, Honeymoon for One
Malina Sarah Saval survives a week alone

Maui is one of the most romantic places in the world. With its lush, verdant greenery, make-love-on-the-beach moonlight and mile-long stretches of soft, golden sand, you have to wonder which came first— the postcard or the scenery. It’s an exotic-looking island, albeit an American one, overrun with thousands of well-tanned tourists speaking a hodgepodge of English, Japanese, Spanish and German. Some are senior citizens wearing baggy Hawaiian shirts, sport socks hiked up to their knees and neon pink visors. Some are families with small, squawking children screaming to take scuba, surfing and snorkeling lessons while their overwrought parents suck down sedating Mai Tais (on family vacations, everyone is allowed to be an alcoholic). And most are young honeymooning couples, canoodling in the hotel check-in line, exchanging salty, wet kisses on the beach, making out in restaurants…

And then there’s me, one miserable, lovelorn single girl who’s just broken up with her boyfriend.
It’s five days after my loveable but delinquent boyfriend, Jake, has just packed up his beat-up, burgundy Chevy —"I’m going to get my life together, I swear"— and moved from Los Angeles back to Phoenix to live with his parents. And I’m sitting all alone on a beach in Ka’anapali, a resort area in western Maui, trying to figure out how I can simultaneously go swimming in the ocean and protect my backpack with my travelers checks, credit cards and camera in it from getting stolen.

Jake and I had only dated three months, but he was funny, sweet, and looked insanely adorable in a pair of Ralph Lauren swimming trunks. He would have fit the bill so far as romantic getaway companions go. And yet, here I was, alone, surrounded on all sides by hordes of annoyingly affectionate honeymooners on whom the phrase Get a room! was completely lost, while making some lame attempt at writing the Great American Novel and instead came up with, well, this.
It all started with Drew Barrymore. I had read an article in some magazine about how Drew (yes, we are on a first name basis) had treated herself, pre-Tom Green, to a week alone in Hawaii. Drew babbled on and on about how in Hawaii she found her best friend, her true confidant, the person she could count on most in this world.

A year or so later, after scrounging up leftover savings from my paltry-paying job as a small-time magazine editor, I’m sitting on my oversized beach towel, repeating the words It’s o.k. to be alone, it’s o.k to be alone so many times that the hotel cocktail waiter serving me my third complimentary piña colada of the day—and it’s only 10 a.m. —asks if I would like to see the hotel doctor.
Am I going crazy?
True, I had traveled alone before, several times, in fact, to Europe, to the Middle East, to Mexico. And yes, there were honeymooners there too, but there were also starving student backpackers and art museums to tour and mountains to hike, all serving as convenient distractions. In Maui, there’s just, well, beaches to kiss on and waterfalls to kiss under and the ocean to kiss in…

And then there’s me. All alone. By myself. Drinking piña coladas at ten a.m. Repeating self-help mantras. I swear, I’m scared of causing a spectacle. I picture laughing, pointing, a news reporter from Maui’s Channel 2 News — Single girl! Single girl!

And then, late on day one of my solo Hawaiian holiday, I meet Javier and Keith, two single, straight guys in their late thirties who were upgraded to a honeymoon suite after being mistaken for a gay couple by the hotel management — "Have fun getting lei-ed. Get it? Getting lei-ed?"
They are almost as miserable as I am.
Javier works for the Democratic Party in some vague capacity (party coordinator?), and Keith is a union leader who claims he sat next to Barbra Streisand and her nails at the Democratic National Convention (Keith, if you’re reading this, I’m still counting on you for concert tickets).
That night, Javier, Keith and I —we decide the only three single people on the entire island of Maui — reap the glories of their honeymoon suite, star gazing on the balcony while downing homemade screwdrivers and making out animal shapes in the navy-blue clouds. We laugh about the string of dysfunctional affairs we’ve all had—I come in first, with seventeen, or is it eighteen? —and by the end of the night, I slowly begin to rediscover the joys of traveling alone.

The next morning, after taking a trip to the local pharmacy for Monistat-7 (Jake had left me with one souvenir), I inhale a breakfast of French toast soaked in cinnamon-vanilla egg batter and macadamia nut syrup, a Hawaiian specialty. I pull out a book to read in between luscious bites, but instead find myself talking to an attractive, middle-aged Italian couple, Nico and Alberto. Nico and Alberto, who just happen to be staying at my hotel, will come in handy the rest of that week, trusty towel watchers they are.
After breakfast, I go snorkeling with Javier and Keith. We rent masks and flippers for nine dollars and soon find ourselves gliding beneath the smooth, translucent blue water in Olowalu, just south of Ka’anapali. We spot tropical fish of every imaginable color, and I see what a yellowtail tuna looks like in its natural environment before turning into sashimi at trendy, overpriced sushi joints like Sushi Roku on Beverly.
For a few minutes I think of Jake, because he’s been to Hawaii, probably snorkeled, but am luckily distracted by Keith, who keeps trying to flirt with me underwater by pressing his snorkeling mask against mine. I remember how pathetic guys can be, and shake Jake from my mind.

After lunch, we drive north, to Kapalua Bay, where we make friends with a group of good-looking college kids from San Francisco who are smoking joints while cliff diving into a secluded cove. First Javier jumps. Then Keith. It takes me a while to muster the courage (I’m by this time sufficiently stoned), but with all of these younger kids rooting me on, I don’t want to look like a coward--
"One, two, three!"
So I jump.
The drop is long enough for me to think about what Jake would do if I cracked my head on a rock, broke my spine and bled to death all over my brand new Gottex bathing suit that I bought on sale at Bloomingdale’s. But I hit the water with a loud splash — no blood, head in tact—and I hear the college kids sound an enthusiastic round of applause, like I’m some wheelchair bound octogenarian who crosses the finish line in a family reunion potato sack race. When I surface, my bikini bottom wedged up my ass, hair slapped wet in my face, I feel good, I feel confident, like a star in one of those old Mountain Dew commercials from the Seventies. I feel like I have completed one of those things on a mental List of Things to Do Before I Die. I am invincible. I am a superhero. What’s next — cliff diving in Acapulco?
That night, I sit at the hotel bar, writing in my journal about my courageous cliff diving experience while listening to a Jim Croce impersonator sing Time in a Bottle and dedicate it to all the young couples in love.

The next morning I waste away the morning watching some local cable access segment called Hawaiian Word of the Day. I repeat mahalo (thank you), Maui no kai ‘oi (Maui is the best) and aloha (hello, goodbye) until I am ready to practice them on the Polynesian hotel maid.
That evening I take in a traditional/touristy luau (Open bar! Free Mai Tais!) and meet a Russian family—Vladimir, an electrical engineer, Galina, his blond wife, and Jasha, their well-behaved nine year-old son, who by the way he tinkers curiously with a camcorder, will probably grow up to be an electrical engineer as well.
The next day I take a drive to famous Honolua Bay, where I bathe in the clean, clear waters, and say screw it about my towel and backpack; I’ve left my travelers checks and credit card in the room, and anyway that Visa’s been maxed out since college. I coincidentally run into Vladimir, Galina and little Jasha and spend hours building sandcastles with my new nine year-old friend. At least he’s single.

That night, eating dinner alone, I’m getting weird stares because I’m the only one in the hotel restaurant with a laptop, not a spouse. Guests are coming up to me, curious, asking what publication I write for ("Myself, for now," "Uh, the New York Times?," "Random House"), what kind of computer I suggest ("I’m a Mac girl") and what my name is so they can look for my byline ("Evgenia Herskovina," "Mila Rasmonikov," "Lacy Goodheart"). And then there’s my favorite question of all, asked with raised eyebrows and in a sympathetic tone: "Daahhling, Why are you in Hawaii alone?"
Because I WANT to!

Day three. Javier and I decide to rent surf boards. The swells are low, and the waves are mushy, but I stand up on the board for what I’m sure is a good ten seconds (4.5 by Javier’s account) and strike a Malia Jones-like pose. Seconds later I spot a shark, its mottled-blue fin cutting a cylindrical shape in the water. I freak out and flail my arms in the water, toppling over my surfboard, the theme song to Jaws drumming in my ears. I suddenly fear that this confidence building week will culminate with me as fish food. I wonder if Jake will come to my memorial service.
The shark turns out to be a harmless sea turtle, bobbing playfully up and down for breath, and I make it to shore alive. But I like the idea of me having escaped the jaws of a shark so much that I end up telling everyone I meet that day in the quaint little port of Lahaina that I dodged a great white. (When I’m informed that great whites generally don’t swim in warm waters I change it to a tiger shark). I soon have all of Maui convinced that I am a local hero.

But I am scarred by the experience. I am now officially afraid of sharks (sea turtles). I see a rock in the water and I think it’s a shark. I see my shadow, I think it’s a shark. Seaweed. Shark. Sailboat. Shark. I spend the next day swimming close to shore, alongside an elderly couple in plastic bathing caps, hoping that if a shark does attack, it’ll eat them first—wait, is that mean? Well, they have lived longer.
Day four I do nothing. I hop from the heated pool to the lukewarm ocean, back to the heated pool. I observe people’s tan lines (and lament that topless sunbathing is illegal). I read my third in a series of new breakout novels by wunderkind authors and assure myself than mine will be better. I watch a man in a bathing suit that says Budweiser across the butt reading James Michener’s Hawaii and laugh. Did he read Poland in Poland? Texas in Texas?
For dinner I go to Burger King (money running low), and watch the sun set while I wolf down my chicken sandwich (no mayo), fries and frothy Coke. I spot a young couple on a bench—he’s reading a Steven King book, she’s flipping through the new Oprah magazine, and they don’t look very happy—and I think to myself, I like being alone.

The thing about being alone is that until you get used to it you always feel like you have to be doing something. Like, you can’t just eat breakfast; you have to be reading while eating breakfast. Or, you can’t take a leisurely stroll along the beach; you need to be collecting shells. But once you stop being so self-conscious, thinking that everyone around you is watching you being alone, it becomes the most liberating feeling in the world.
I finish my sandwich and sit for a while, doing nothing, just happy to watch the stars, just happy to be.
I even turn down an offer that night to go clubbing in Lahaina from Javier and Keith. For one, I’m growing tres bored of Keith’s tiresome flirting techniques —"So, you want to take a walk along the beach tonight?" Wink, wink. And how much can I listen to Javier babble on and on about Tipper Gore’s hemlines last voting season?
Instead, I shower, watch Pay-Per-View, and check my messages. Jake hasn’t called. But it’s OK. I apply aloe vera to my brown-red skin, and fall fast, fast asleep.

My last day in Maui. Napili the bellhop insists I visit Hana, a rainforest on Maui’s unspoiled eastern coast. So, I take off in my red Chevrolet Cavalier rental (after searching an hour for it in the parking lot among all the other red Cavalier rentals) and head towards Hana. Along the way I pass the plantation town of Pa’ia, a windswept beach favorite of windsurfers, and stop at Twin Falls, where I sample a pure sugar cane juice shake.
I then hike to Twin Falls’s two twin (duh) waterfalls, sloshing my way through the moist undergrowth, letting a flow of fresh, clean water drip all over my body. I snap a few photographs of myself, angling the camera on my own face, the result of which I’m sure will be squished, blown-up and squashed, like a reflection in a carnival fun house mirror. Oh well, at least I’ll have physical evidence that I was actually in Hawaii.

The road to Hana is video game-curvy, winding its way along thousand-foot high cliffs and thick, rich rain forest, and the entire time I’m driving I feel like I’m going to toss the sugar cane juice shake all over the steering wheel. For 52 miles of one-lane roads and rickety bridges it’s stop-go-take-a-picture, and I’m inevitably always stuck behind some senior citizen tour bus going two miles an hour or a newly married couple with the incessant urge to make out at every vista. After two hours of feeling carsick and wanting to kick myself for not having Dramamine, I finally decide to turn around. I suppose a co-pilot would have come in handy, because Hana is considered by some to be paradise on earth, but right then and there, all I want is my hotel pool, a patch of sand and an ice-cold Coke.

It’s my last night in Maui and I’m sitting on the beach, ready with camera, waiting for the sunset. Balmy, tropical, trade winds are blowing lightly through my hair. My skin is slightly sticky from the salt water (all my zits are gone—presto!). I dig my toes into the cool, plush sand.
And there is a moment, when the sun is white hot and then glowing orange and then a flash of green and then—
—And I miss Jake terribly. But I also feel serene. I feel alone, but good alone, like I can do whatever I want, go wherever I chose. I don’t need a soul.
And nobody else can touch me.
The next day I say aloha to Maui. After a short inter-island flight I am sitting in a Burger King in the Honolulu Airport. It’s 6:30 p.m. and my connecting flight to Los Angeles doesn’t leave until nine. I’m eating my favorite meal in the whole, wide world, the number #6— chicken sandwich (no mayo), fries, Coke. I’m reading my book by a wunderkind (yes, I decide, mine will be better). The evening sky is muted blue with leaky streaks of pink and purple. A bird is flying around the drink dispenser, flapping its tiny wings. I’m happy. I’m alone. And it occurs to me—
I’m not at all lonely.

My week of being alone has taught me how lucky I am to be alone. No boyfriends to fight with. No kids to chase around. No friends to argue with over which bar we go to. There is just me. In the airport. Reading a book. Eating Burger King.
And that, mahalo, is enough.

© Malina Saval March 2003

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