Late afternoon, and the hotels and condos, lifted high above the water on tall pilings, cast long gray shadows on the surface of the shallow lagoon. Water taxis cruised between the buildings, accommodating those who did not use the tracery of bridges above, spanning between the high rises. The broad beach was still crowded. It had been recreated away from the ocean to the eastern, island side of the hotels and also acted as a dike, shielding the inland structures beyond it from high tides and storm surges. Eventually, as evening advanced, the sun-reddened crowds would board water shuttles or water taxis to return to their hotels. Green mountains, closely dotted now with medium-rise condos and the remaining single family homes, rose some miles back from the beach. The flat land between the beach and the mountains was a crowded clutter of buildings of various heights. To the left were the ocean front mansions of the ultra-rich, spaced out along the lower slope of Diamond Head and protected by breakwaters now that the sea had advanced to lap closer to the crater. Their windows and solar panels blazed 10K gold with reflections of the lowering sun,
The sunlit western side of the hotels faced the ocean and the booze-cruise tour boats that slowly motored past Diamond Head, and then back as they always had, just beyond the surf break that on this day was small. Mai Tais served to their passengers were as watered down as ever. It was December, and Christmas carols had been playing in the hotel elevators since before Thanksgiving, but the temperature was still in the nineties and the air fairly dripped with humidity.
The couple stood on their balcony on the seaward side of their hotel and the man squinted into the glare off the water from the hot sun settling to the West. “I wish you could have seen this in the old days, when Waikiki Beach was out there and 5-star hotels like the Royal, Moana, and Halekulani stood right on the sand.” The man gestured towards the sea with his beer bottle. “Where they were—all under water now.” He was of medium height, post-athletic build and starting to show spread in the middle, salt-and-pepper close cut hair with a decent hairline, shirtless in the heat. Age? Anywhere from 60 to 90, it was hard to be certain anymore with the life enhancement treatments now more affordable.
“You must feel very nostalgic and sad when you see all the changes. It must just be so totally different from when you were growing up,” the woman replied. “Even though what they’ve done here since is really pretty nice. Lives up to the advertising as “The Venice of the Pacific.” She was shorter than the man, but not by much, very trim—she clearly worked out regularly. A cute nose, attractive oval face with good cheekbones, topped by short orange hair—the color of choice for the month. Age? Probably younger than he, but women still didn’t tell.
“Yeah, a good marketing phrase, but pretty ironic since the real Venice couldn’t be saved. None of the dikes or flood gates worked in the end,” he said.
“People kept talking about climate change and sea level rise, but there was no coordinated effort to halt global warming. When the polar ice started to melt, it went really fast. Too little too late. And now here we are, in the New Venice,” she said.
“Yeah. Venice. On the other side from us, where the beach is now? Used to be the golf course where my grandfather and granduncles played. When the sea began to rise and high tides flooded the lobbies and first floors of the beachside hotels, there was a debate about whether to build higher and higher sea walls, or to rebuild on stilts and let the sea reclaim the land. They decided to do the latter. It was a busy time in construction. Taking down the old buildings and putting down pilings to raise the new hotels above the surge. I think they did the right thing. How can you fight Mother Nature? And who would want to come here to look out at high dikes blocking the ocean view anyway? So they moved the beach to where the golf course used to be. It’s ironic. There used to be a canal between Waikiki and the golf course side. The canal was dug in the 1920’s to drain the rice paddies, ponds, and swamps of Waikiki so that homes and the hotels could be built. Now the sea has taken it all back. Not much room on this island for golf courses any more either. Yeah, and now we snorkel over the remains of the original hotels.”
“It’s good that all this lagoon is a nature preserve. No fishing or removal of anything. And the foundations of the old hotels and shops are like a reef and a shelter for all the marine life. Snorkeling this morning was just fabulous,” she said.
“That is one big change and improvement from the old Waikiki. There used to be so much spear fishing that there wasn’t much marine life to see. Got to be a little careful snorkeling and swimming though, to stay out of the water taxi and shuttle lanes. And when we checked in, the desk warned us that a guest at the Xian Aloha was nipped by a shark last week,” he said. “Lost some fingers.”
“Heard it was his own fault,” she replied. “He was feeding the sharks against the rules. ”
“Yeah, people have to remember that these are wild animals, even though they are usually quite used to people being in the water with them.” He finished the beer and wiped his mouth on the back of his hand. “Getting hungry yet?”
“Let’s wait a bit and watch the sun set into the sea. Won’t be long.”
“You want to eat up high like a rooftop garden place or down by the water tonight?“
“Let’s go back to the Aqua Room,” she replied. “It was such fun looking through the glass floor and seeing all the fish attracted to the lights. And the food was good,”
“Okay. We used to look for the ‘green flash’ as the sun settled into the sea. Now all the moisture in the air makes it hazy and a lot rarer. Still, maybe we’ll be lucky tonight. Watch for the sun just as it slips below the horizon,” he said.