Turtles hotline: A memoir of a day in Hawaii

Hello everyone!

Hope your Monday is going well. I am still a bit sore from intense pole practice last week. Otherwise, I am fine and dandy 🙂

Today, I want to do a different type of post: this will be a retelling of one of my wacky and humorous days in Hawaii.

This story features the “Honu“, or the Green Sea Turtle, which exist in the topical and subtropical parts of the world. This is the species of sea turtles that is found in Hawaii. Unfortunately, this species is listed as endangered: In some countries, these turtles and their eggs are hunted for food. They can also be harmed by light and chemical pollution. For more information about sea turtle conservation, you can check out the Hawaii Wildlife Fund here.

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It is our fifth day on Maui Island, Hawaii. We have a goal in mind. Today, we will find ourselves some sea turtles.

(“We” compose of myself and Carl. Carl is my partner in crime, or significant other, or boyfriend, whichever you prefer to know him by.)

So, after rolling out of bed in the morning, pulling on some clothes, wolfing down toasted bread with pineapple jam, and petting the cats at our Airbnb, we pile into our rental car and head for the beach.

Ho’okipa beach is a beautiful place. As expected on this side of Maui, it is perfectly sunny with few clouds in the sky.

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We descend down the stairs and take off our shoes so our bare feet can sink into the sand. As we walk closer to the water, the fine sand is replaced by slabs of rock. Waves crash into the rocks with ferocity.

There is a small handful of people at the beach, mostly lounging on the sand with a book, or just enjoying the sun.

I tiptoe onto the rocks, wading through the shallow water, breathing in the fresh ocean breeze, savouring the splash of cool water against my feet. Carl stays on the sand, perhaps because he doesn’t want to get his feet wet, likely because he is not as easily impressed as I am by the vastness of the ocean.

We walk from one end of the beach to the other. We pass a young father and his son, who are playing in one of the shallow pools of water formed by indentations in the rock. We pass a girl crouching on a rock with a camera, angling it towards the sea. Perhaps she is taking photos of the surfers. (There are plenty of surfers. It is more a surfing beach than a swimming beach.)

As we near the other end of the beach, my heart sinks with the realization that we haven’t seen a single sea turtle.

“Why don’t we ask the life guards?” Carl suggests, perhaps in an effort to make me feel better. He points at a yellow and red box-shaped cabin further up-shore, where several blurry shapes stand.

So we arrive at the cabin and pitch forth our question.

The man comes out to great us, leaning on the doorframe. He shakes his head, crossing his arms. “Sea turtles?”

“Yeah,” Carl says. He is the spokesperson on our trip, mostly because he has a much more courteous mouth than me. “Like, do they come more often in the early mornings, or in the evenings?”

Another voice from the cabin calls out. “They come and go as they please. I don’t think they got no schedule or nothin’.”

A lower, more gruff voice said, “Why don’t we give them a call?”

The other two lifeguards chuckled at that.

“To be honest,” the first lifeguard added, “I haven’t seen a sea turtle in my life.” He shrugs. “I suppose you can try again in another hour or two. Maybe they will come by then.”

I am dejected as we head for our car.

“We can try again in the afternoon,” Carl says. Then he laughs as he recalls the conversation with the lifeguards. “Call the turtles, the guy said.” He muses, “Maybe the sea turtles take appointments.”

“He said he never seen a sea turtle in his life! And he’s a lifeguard!” I exclaim. You may be able to tell who is the glass half-full that day.

Our second task of the day is to hike the Waihee Trail. It is eleven o’clock and blazing hot by the time enter the parking lot of the trail.

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It is a one-way trail. That is, when you reach the lookout at the end, you turn back. The path forward is gruelling and very uphill. The scenery is beautiful. We see the rich forests of the Iao Valley, several waterfalls, and Kahului in the distance.

Twenty minutes after, we are still on our climb up.

“Why don’t you call the turtles?” Carl suggests.

“What?” I ask, puzzled.

“You know, call the turtles to set up an appointment.”

I smile, playing along. I hold an imaginary telephone to my ear. “Ring, ring,” I say.

He holds a telephone to his ear too. “You’ve reached 1-800-TURTLES, Turtles Hotline. Please listen carefully to the options. Press one if you have an existing appointment. Press two if you would like to make an appointment…”

I glare at him and he flashes a smile. Looks like these sea turtles are more popular than I expected.

“Two,” I say.

“Please wait on the line for an available agent,” he says, then begins to sing. “Aloha oe… aloha oe…”

I roll my eyes. He sure isn’t making it easy for me. Although I can’t help but join in. Did you know that the song Aloha Oe was composed by one of the previous Queens of Hawaii?

“Howdy there,” Carl interrupts the song with his best impression of a Western accent. “It’s Bob the turtle here from Turtles Hotline. How can I help you?”

“Hi Bob,” I reply. “It’s Sophie and Carl calling. We would like to make an appointment for a turtle viewing today?”

“Hmmm,” Carl says, pinching his lips together. “That will be difficult. You see, all our turtles are away to a convention in the south…”

“Oh really?” I sigh, my shoulders sinking.

“But I suppose I can check the schedule of our on-call turtle,” he says.

My eyes light up again. So there is hope. I can barely hide the excitement in my voice. “Yes, please,” I say.

“What time would you like?”

“Hmmm,” I meet eyes with Carl, “We are on a trail right now. We might be able to stop by afterwards. How about three?”

“Well, lemme see here. Maria is on-call today. And you know, she’s one popular lady. She happens to have a shell-shining appointment at three, and she has another client to see at four…”

“Would she be able to squeeze us in sometime? Let’s say, three forty-five?” I ask, using my most polite and friendly negotiating tone.

“Well, I suppose that will do. I mean, if not, we’ll have to ask Rob the intern. And he’s great, but you know, he’s still learning the turtling ways.”

I stifle back a chuckle at the thought of hard-working turtle interns.

“Maria will do. Thanks.”

I hang up the phone and shake my head. “Turtles these days, busy.”

“You don’t say,” Carl says, returning to his normal voice. “You got the appointment?”

I tell him about the turtle conference and Maria’s shell-shining appointment and that our meeting time is at three forty-five.

“You think we can call turtles turts? You know, like how they call Turkish people Turks?” I ask.

“No,” he replies. “I think they will find it rather offensive.”

I nod, realizing that “turts” may sound similar to “turds.”

After the trail, we stop by an organic, hipster supermarket in Paia and come across some traffic on our way to Ho’okipa Beach. We call to change our appointment time to four thirty.

After the telephone tree and one more minute of Aloha Oe: “Howdy there, Bob speaking,” Carl says. “How can I help you?”

“It’s Sophie and Carl again, we will have to change our appointment time. Will four-thirty do?”

“Hmmm,” he purses his lips again. “Maria is off work then. She’s done at four. You know, gotta tend to her kids and such… I suppose we’ll have to call in Rob the intern.”

I bite my lip.

“You know,” he speaks quickly to fill in the silence. “Rob isn’t quite bad. He’s had a few months of experience. Although, you know, once he was caught being a bit close with our lady turtles. My god, he dared to put his flipper two metres away from the gal.” He shakes his head.

I suppose two metres is scandalous in turtle terms.

“I mean, if that’s our only option, we don’t mind,” I say.

At four-twenty, we park in a rush and dash out of the car in hopes of arriving early for our appointment with Rob.

There is a bigger crowd at this time of day, more couples lounging on the beach and surfers riding waves.

We comb the beach again, from one end to the other. The view is beautiful, but again, no sight of the turtle. Just rocks, sand, water, and more rocks.

We leave the beach, disappointed. I am charged with the task of calling Turtle Hotline again.

“Rob?” Carl replies as Bob the turtle. He bites his lip and stammers. “I’m afraid we have some terrible news. Rob was arrested for quite the scandal today. Doh, how dare he!” He shakes his head. “He put an entire flipper on another lady turtle. An entire flipper!”

“Oh,” I say, holding back a grin. “That must be…” I trail off, not knowing what to say. Frustrating? Difficult?

“I suppose you haven’t received our email then, cancelling your appointment. We are very apologetic for that.”

In spite of it all, I smile. Who knew turtles have access to such advance technology as email and internet?

“No worries,” I say.

“Yes, you needn’t worry. Rob will be thoroughly punished for his deeds.”

Carl and I get home early. (Home as in our Airbnb.) It is a charming place. A ginger striped cat stands at the door as if she has been waiting for us all day. We open the door and she comes in to join us.

Despite not seeing any sea turtles, it is a relief to come back early. The past few days have been early mornings and late nights, not much time for beauty sleep when you are on a trip with things to accomplish.

I shower and change into comfortable clothes.

“Hey,” Carl calls out from the other room. “Let’s go.”

“What?” I ask. I am already settled onto the cot with my laptop, ready to unwind with some spreadsheets and pineapple wine.

“The turtles are out every evening from six to seven. Like clockwork, they say.” He emerges from the room, holding up his phone.

I check the clock on the computer. It is just a bit past six.

My stomach grumbles. However much I would love to see the turtles, I am hungry, border lining on hangry, and I am already in my comfy clothes.

“Do we have to go?” I groan. “What if they’re not there?”

“Come on, we’ve been looking for them all day.”

I sigh. Carl hasn’t yet been proven wrong on this trip.

And it makes sense that they would come ashore at this time. Lifeguard duty ends at five. It would explain why the lifeguard hasn’t seen one in his life.

I slide on my flip-flops and we climb into the car yet again.

The sky is a light shade of apricot as we drive towards the beach. Sun sets at seven-thirty every night in Hawaii. I am reassured that, even if we do not see any sea turtles, at the very least we will have a good sunset photo.

We arrive at the beach. It is every bit as crowded as it had been in the late afternoon. Even more so.

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We walk along the shore and take photos of the sunset, keeping our eyes peeled for a rare glimpse of the sea beasts.

“Hey,” I say, pointing to a group of people at the opposite end of the shore. They are crowding around something on the sandy beach and taking photos. “What’s that?”

We walk over. They seem to be looking at a cluster of black rocks on the sand.

No, not rocks. My eyes widen as I approach.

A sea turtle. And no, not just one. Not just five. There are maybe ten, or twenty.

They are a dark green, almost black. They lie still on the sand, motionless. If not for the roundness and the patterning of their shell, they look exactly like rocks.

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But wait, there is a movement.

A turtle crawls from the water, one limb onto the sand, then another. A wave envelops his body from behind and pulls him back. He stays still, as if taking a break, before resuming his efforts.

There are stakes driven into the ground before them and red tape between the stakes. We know to stand behind the tape with the other observers.

A girl with blonde hair approach us, introducing herself as part of a marine conservation society and encouraging us to ask questions.

Carl, being the eager beaver, asks all sorts of questions. Like what they eat, what they are doing on the sand, how old they grow to be.

Apparently, sea turtles come on shore to rest, or “bask”, because it is away from their natural predators who exist in the sea. Usually, they come for a few hours at a time. Sometimes they can stay out here for days.

“Silly question,” I say, pointing to a rock-like mound just a few yards away from us. It is black-coloured, perhaps with a touch of green, covered by a layer of sand. It could either be a very round rock or the shell of a turtle. “Is that a turtle or a rock?”

“You mean that one?” She points and I nod. She laughs. “Oh, he’s been here for the whole day.”

Carl and I stare at the rock-like turtle, or turtle-like rock, our mouth open, dumbfounded. We look at each other.

For the whole day, she says.

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