May 15, 2010

Being attacked by a 400-pound sea turtle is going to be difficult to explain

National Geographic Traveler, March 2010
Maui: Is There Anything Left to Discover? by Andrew McCarthy

"Under a jacaranda tree I spot a young boy bouncing up and down on a squeaking pogo stick beside a worn-out black pickup truck parked in front of the Keokea Gallery. Another plantation-style shack, the gallery has its windows and doors thrown open. The boy, trying to break a personal record of a thousand bounces, is the son of gallery director John "Sheldon" Wallau, a shaggy dog of a man who has been "sitting on the side of the road for 20 years." Every inch of Wallau's gallery is filled with the work of what look to be multiple local artists in varying styles. After a few minutes' chat, however, Wallau lets slip that he is the artist behind all the work I see.
"But there are different signatures on these," I note.
"I work under 14 different personalities," he answers, shrugging.
"Excuse me?"
"Kimo, over there," he points to a muted, naturalistic canvas, "paints his house over and over because he is scared to leave it. And that one," he swings around to a portrait of a native Hawaiian woman in a grass skirt, "that one is by Don Shel, an Italian. He likes to have half-naked girls hanging around his studio."

"The turtle drifts closer, and I cautiously reach out my right hand. The turtle continues to ease its way toward me. You're not supposed to make physical contact with turtles, but this one seems interested. The tip of its left front flipper is only inches from the fingertips of my right hand. My breathing through my snorkel is strong and regular. We are about to touch, a thrilling, primal, intimate moment. An image from Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel - the one of God reaching out and touching life into Adam - flashes in my mind. Less than an inch separates us. The turtle's huge eye stares into mine. And then it banks right and dives 40 feet down.
It is below me, hovering near the sandy bottom, when suddenly it pivots and rises toward me - fast. I see its face full on, its flippers bent with purpose, the distance between us vanishing. Is it charging me? I feel my heart race. Being attacked by a 400-pound sea turtle is going to be difficult to explain. At the last minute it veers and pops its head above water, no more than two feet away. I lift my face into the air. My mask is fogged, so I rip it off and try to breathe. We bob up and down. "What was that?" I gasp. If turtles can smile, this one is grinning at me."

Great article. I want to visit Hawaii more now.