Travel Tales: Follow the Light -- Or Else

Macduff Everton, his unkempt hair flying in a stiff breeze, guns the Jeep out of the rental-car lot in Lanai City, ignoring the speed bumps, and -- wheels squealing -- pulls onto narrow, two-lane Lanai Avenue. "What should we do first?" shouts the mottledfaced photographer as we pass dangerously close to a little pigtailed girl zigzagging on a rusty bike. "I think we should check into our hotel, maybe have some sort of a tropical cocktail," I suggest. Macduff shoots me a wild look. "The light, the light!" he screams. "Look at the light!"

I hate traveling with photographers. They're always screaming about "the light, the light!" like Tattoo announcing the arrival of "de plane, de plane!" on Fantasy Island. Hell, I said the same thing to Macduff two hours ago over drinks in the Honolulu airport as we were waiting for our connecting flight to Lanai.

"I despise photographers," is what I said. He took a gulp of his whiskey and replied, "They're all right in a way -- in fact, I'm very good friends with a few of them. Pass the time of day when we meet and all that. But you're right, they can be a pain sometimes; there's no denying it."

He said this as if he weren't talking about himself, which he was, of course, because he is a photographer.

This occurs to me as our Jeep, which I've foolishly allowed Macduff to drive, zooms past our digs. From the quick glimpse I'm accorded, I see that the Four seasons Resort Lanai, The Lodge at Koele looks regal and inviting in the late-afternoon light, just as it did in the brochure they sent me -- the sort of place where one could sit peacefully in a wicker chair on the veranda and, as the copy reads, "relax at the end of the day with a Lava Flow or a Ship Wreck cocktail." it's been a long day, and I'm thinking how lovely it would be to drown myself in a Ship Wreck or two, but it's a moot point as our Jeep goes airborne over a slight rise in the road, and the hotel, with its 10-foot-tall mural of a pineapple over the entry, vanishes behind a row of swaying pine trees.

"You missed the turnoff," I say.

Macduff stares at the map on his lap while steering with his thighs. The Jeep veers off the highway and onto the red cinder shoulder. Rocks fly. The car fishtails. Three or four wild turkeys, which had been peacefully pecking at insects along the side of the road a few minutes ago, hurl themselves recklessly into the thick undergrowth, terrorized beyond belief. Macduff mutters an obscenity at the fleeing birds, shoves the map between his legs, jerks the car back onto the road and then looks at me with a complicitous smile, ignoring our brush with calamity.

"I read there were petroglyphs over here," he shouts, stabbing at the flapping map with a stubby finger of his as the Jeep teeters back and forth on two wheels. "Imagine -- petroglyphs!"

I grab the map out of his lap. "You drive," I tell him. "I'll navigate." There is in fact a symbol on the map for petroglyphs near Shipwreck Beach, at the end of a road labeled "Deep Sand," the very same road the rental car agency stamped "Not Accessible" in inch-high red letters when we picked up the map 10 minutes ago.

"Look -- the road is closed," I say as he turns off the pavement onto a deeply rutted, sandy trail.

Macduff looks annoyed. "Only to mere mortals. I've driven Jeeps on trails only a donkey could muster," he says, starting off on one of his boring adventure stories about some trip to Yucatán or Tonga or someplace, where he navigated a fourwheel-drive vehicle across a pontoon bridge built from coconuts.

"Why do you want to shoot petroglyphs anyway?" I ask. "Isn't it just ancient graffiti left by a bored teenager tired of hunting for wild pigs?"

"Culture!" shouts Macduff. "We're looking for culture, right?" A front wheel sinks into a gully in the road, and the bottom of the car scrapes something hard. There's a thack! as something flies off and strikes the undercarriage of the Jeep, all of which Macduff ignores.

I don't bother pointing it out to wild Macduff. He's got his mind set on finding petroglyphs -- and culture -- in the hour of light we have left. so we bump and grind our way along the island's northeast coast until the road ends at an old fisherman's hut where a faded sign on a leafless tree says, "Danger: Be Aware of the Visayan Mad Dog."

"There's your culture, right there," Macduff says, pointing at the sign.

Trade winds roaring down the Kalohi Channel between here and Molokai howl along the beach. A spindly tree, stripped of all vegetation, leans like a drunk away from the ocean. Waves roll across a rusty World-War-II-era Liberty ship wrecked on the reef just offshore (thus the name, Shipwreck Beach). A trail leads up a bumpy hill through scrubby gullies pockmarked with large volcanic rocks.

Somewhere up here, supposedly, are the petroglyphs. Macduff and I trudge through prickly vegetation in flip-flops for half an hour in the diminishing light as the wind slams us around, searching for the elusive ancient markings, but we find only bleached animal bones, scurrying geckos and a nervous chukar or two, which, when startled, run through the bushes like children hiding from bogeymen. Our search for petroglyphs is fruitless.

As darkness falls, we bounce like pinballs in the Jeep down the washed-out road, headed for the comfort of the Lodge and a different sort of Ship Wreck, this one drinkable. But not too many, Macduff tells me. Our quest for the perfect morning light begins at dawn.

David Lansing, recently returned from a photographer-free trip to Oahu, where he was on a feature assignment for an upcoming issue. Macduff Everton, travel photographer has circled the globe many times in his work for ISLANDS.