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You'd think the death toll sign would be a deterrent
July 16, 2010 7:11 AM   Subscribe

"Andrew Doughty [...] brah you have BLOOD on your hands. No one ever even went to Queens Bath before these books were released, and now over 10 people have died there." The Strange Case of Queen's Bath, Kauai.

Guidebooks have been blamed for more recent deaths as well.
posted by liet (29 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is a fine post. There are lots of interesting issues: when a tourist goes and does something stupid, who's at fault? If a landmark is on public land but has to be accessed by crossing private land, is it really public? Or is it really trespassing? Do locals have a legitimate grievance when a formerly secluded spot gets busy after a mention in a guidebook?

I occasionally worry about a similar issue: I go rock climbing semi-regularly at a popular park around here. The climbing community is pretty friendly and always safe, but every few weeks some tourist comes and hurts themselves fooling around on the rocks, often requiring a medical helicopter to get them out. Nobody wants the park closed down, but how do you convince people who only go once or twice in their lives not to go scrambling over sharp, slippery talus with a soda in their hand and flip-flops on their feet?
posted by echo target at 7:49 AM on July 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Within 30 minutes of my posting about wanting to poke lava with a stick, someone had suggested Big Island Revealed. We were, indeed, inspired to do a dangerous, exhausting trek across the lava fields to get close to actual, flowing lava (though we never got close enough for me to accomplish my goal). The book is very, very clear about the dangers, but also clear about how to prepare, and we were very prepared. The book definitely made the trip a success--whenever we went against its advice, we were sorry. It's amazingly detailed, down to which room numbers to request at which hotels--I mean, c'mon, a corner room with a wrap-around 250 sq. Ft. over-water balcony?
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:50 AM on July 16, 2010


This post confused the hell out of me, and it took a few Googles of what seemed to be key words to figure out that this was about a tourist attraction/bit of nature in Hawaii. I don't know about everyone else, but I didn't have the slightest clue where or what Kauai is, which the OP seems to assume...

echo target: surely this can be approached without setting foot on private land, given how it can be approached (with much difficulty, aye) without setting foot on land.

Having lived in a few parts of the world, I can say that tourists are, as a general rule, clueless. Attempts to educate them are rarely appreciated, and advice rarely heeded. This really does seem to be one of those problems with many solutions, but that there isn't a good solution to.
posted by Dysk at 8:23 AM on July 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


This reminds me of a friend talking about going to the Grand Canyon, and how many people die of dehydration because they figure they'll just hike down and hike back up... with a dinky water bottle. Nature is beautiful, powerful, etc. but so many people have forgotten that nature doesn't have safety rails, attendants, or blue emergency phones to get you out of trouble.

It's sad, but I'm down with cautionary tales. People need to be reminded that the world isn't Disney Land.
posted by yeloson at 8:28 AM on July 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


[Some comments removed. Flag it and move on, go to Metatalk if that's not enough for you.]
posted by cortex at 8:29 AM on July 16, 2010


This video tells you all you need to know: WTF why are your kids playing here.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:42 AM on July 16, 2010


Back in the day when we wanted all the clearcutting (on Vancouver Island) to stop, we thought tourism would be a good replacement for it. This post illustrates why (among many reasons) that was a tragic, irreversible mistake.
posted by klanawa at 8:46 AM on July 16, 2010


In America, we always have to blame someone else. If not the guidebook writer, then the weather forecaster. The park ranger. The mapmaker. The backpack manufacturer.

But the book said this was safe! No matter what it looks like to my lyin' eyes. Google Maps said this was an on-ramp, not an off-ramp! The ranger didn't tell me that rock was going to fall!

Jesus, we have warning signs at the edge of cliffs about the effects of gravity. Forget baseball - not taking responsibility is our national sport.
posted by gottabefunky at 8:52 AM on July 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


When I was in Kauai, we attempted to do a short up-and-down-and-up-and-down 3-mile hike to a "secluded" beach - we were pretty prepared for such an easy hike, except we left too late in the day and were caught in the inevitable afternoon rain shower. Scrambling over muddy, rocky, hilly trails didn't seem appealing, so we turned back a little over 1/4 of the way in. On the way back, we continued to pass tourists coming down in flip flops and board shorts, with a 3/4 empty bottle of water. Hope they made it back to their car in one piece.

Of course, on Waikiki beach we saw tons of people playing dangerously on top of the wave break, and of course one man got knocked off and pulled under - thankfully he was spotted by a nearby swimmer who shouted loudly for help.
posted by muddgirl at 8:53 AM on July 16, 2010


but so many people have forgotten that nature doesn't have safety rails, attendants, or blue emergency phones to get you out of trouble

Ignorant people in dangerous situations seems like an age-old problem to me. It's not about lack of knowledge - it's about the unwillingness to learn. Of course, all the experience in the world is not perfect insurance against tragedy.
posted by muddgirl at 9:04 AM on July 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


gottabefunky: Jesus, we have warning signs at the edge of cliffs about the effects of gravity. Forget baseball - not taking responsibility is our national sport.

Man, I get sick of this sort of argument. Ironically, it's just another way to avoid taking responsibility - in this case, for the possibility that people's problems might have external causes. Surely, if people are stupid around nature, it's their fault - it isn't the fault of modern civilization for paving over or plowing under most of the Earth, or the fault of American society for giving most people two weeks of vacation a year which they are usually actively encouraged not to take, or something along those lines. Hell, if someone is just stupid, is that even their fault? I'd go first to blaming genetics, parenting, or educational quality.

I'm not saying we need to bubble-wrap the Earth or sue everyone, but it seems like 'personal responsibility' is usually just an excuse not to help.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:14 AM on July 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm not especially concerned about the businesses that claim they are being hurt -- you don't get to police your critics, fair or not, and a good business owner knows how to address unfair criticism. From the sounds of these books, the authors probably legitimately had repeatedly bad experiences; they do seem to do their research.

As to warning tourists -- well, I do think an author has an ethical obligation to highlight as clearly as possible places that are unsafe, because you get a mix of tourists, some of who have never been to a place before and may be thoughtless or foolish as a result. It sounds as though they could have done a better job with this, and that's a valid criticism.

That being said, I haven't been to the island and have not read the books. It seems like the biggest issue is that this place was formerly unknown to tourists and now they go their quite often, and some die. That will happen -- you can't keep places in the world secret. And if word spreads by word of mouth, as is the case with the network of underground caves near downtown Saint Paul, it can be even worse, because then it is totally uncontrolled.

As to the question of these formerly local hangouts that are now spoiled by tourists -- well, you can always discourage tourism, if you like. Or funnel it. Half of the people who visit New Orleans never leave Bourbon Street, and the town is a little better for it.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:19 AM on July 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Invoking the specter of personal responsibility isnt's an excuse not to help. It's a way of saying your first line of safety should be helping yourself. People forget that, and then blame others when things go south.

Saying "I wasn't warned" is not a replacement for saying "I wasn't prepared."

This has also come up with Michael Kelsey's Southwest hiking guidebooks. He's gotten quite petulant about it in his introductions now. ("DON'T BLAME ME IF THINGS GO WRONG.")
posted by gottabefunky at 9:34 AM on July 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


The desktop picture on my parents' laptop is a gorgeous photo of the two of them standing on a rock formation somewhere in Newfoundland (can't remember the exact location) just as a huge wave crashes majestically behind them. What you don't see in the photo is that they were nearly knocked off the rock and into the ocean by the wave. When they walked to their car afterward, soaking wet, one of the locals told them a couple had drowned that way a few years ago. Be careful around water, people.
posted by The Card Cheat at 9:47 AM on July 16, 2010


Hawaii is home to scores of dangerous, out-of-the-way places that are mostly closed, or inaccessible, to the public at present. A popular attraction on the island of Kauai--the island mentioned in this post-- was the Slippery Slide, a natural slide created by eons of water sluicing down lava rock. It was nestled in the woods, and visited only rarely, until a series of accidents caused the state to close off access in 1979. (The slide's sister, an artificial slide fashioned out of concrete for the filming of "The South Pacific," lies on private property on one of the other islands.)

Despite the closures, despite the warning signs in legalese, it's still plenty easy to get in serious trouble in Hawaii. Trails crisscross the mountain ranges along dangerous, wind-swept cliffs. Mountain ledges are composed of soft rock that crumbles under the feet. Lava beckons. Surf and riptides sweep you out to sea. Traffic jams on Oahu lead to frustration and suicidal impulses . . . In short, danger lurks around every corner of the archipelago, and make sure you plan your adventure in advance and take precautions.
posted by Gordion Knott at 10:17 AM on July 16, 2010


It's not about lack of knowledge - it's about the unwillingness to learn.

Yeah, this is really it, right here. The self-reliant, "can do" attitude is great- but it also requires the willingness to do the preparation for whatever you're doing out in the wilderness.

I remember having to explain to someone that, yes, a pus oozing self-inflicted burn (don't ask) is a problem, would require cleaning at least twice a day and bandaging, and that, yes, he would be best to stop the activity which caused the burn and was exacerbating it. He was 32 and raised in the US.

...
posted by yeloson at 10:28 AM on July 16, 2010


Several years ago I fractured my patellae doing something similar to this at the pools at Mokapu lighthouse on Oahu I had to then do a 3 mile hike back to my vehicle so that I could drive myself to the hospital and never thought of blaming anyone other than myself.

This was one of the things that made me want to live in Hawaii, the "ahem, nature is dangerous if you get hurt it's on you." attitude
posted by kanemano at 10:30 AM on July 16, 2010


Man, I get sick of this sort of argument. Ironically, it's just another way to avoid taking responsibility - in this case, for the possibility that people's problems might have external causes. Surely, if people are stupid around nature, it's their fault - it isn't the fault of modern civilization for paving over or plowing under most of the Earth, or the fault of American society for giving most people two weeks of vacation a year which they are usually actively encouraged not to take, or something along those lines. Hell, if someone is just stupid, is that even their fault? I'd go first to blaming genetics, parenting, or educational quality.

In the equation of life, these are known constants. They can make the equation hard to balance, and sometimes they can even make it impossible, but the simple fact is that they're not the part that we as individuals can influence, while our personal actions are. Yes, people's problems often have external causes, but the solutions just as often involve individual action.

"Personal responsibility" isn't "an excuse not to help" -- it's a straightforward acknowledgment of the fact that there are some situations in which no one can help you but yourself. There are many people who've come back when others didn't; the difference is often sheer luck, and it's important to admit that, but it's equally important to admit that the difference is not just "modern civilization for paving over or plowing under most of the Earth, or the fault of American society for giving most people two weeks of vacation a year".
posted by vorfeed at 10:32 AM on July 16, 2010


yeloson: "This reminds me of a friend talking about going to the Grand Canyon, and how many people die of dehydration because they figure they'll just hike down and hike back up... with a dinky water bottle. "

When the wife and I were there in May, we walked down a bit of the Bright Angel trail, behind a ranger with a GIANT backpack. The ranger said the backpack was six gallons of water to give out to idiots.
posted by notsnot at 11:07 AM on July 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


During the last big El Nino when there was huge surf pounding Northern California I would regularly see people scramble over cliff-side railings to pose for pictures. The tops of those cliffs were soaking wet. Where did those people think that water came from? I blame cameras and the tourist experience for making people oblivious and dumb.
posted by rdr at 11:14 AM on July 16, 2010


notsnot, we brought an extra flashlight on our (night-time) lava trek specifically to give away.
posted by MrMoonPie at 11:28 AM on July 16, 2010


Guidebooks have been blamed for less recent deaths as well.

Such as Lanford Hastings' The Emigrants' Guide to Oregon and California.
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:59 AM on July 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


Queen's Bath and other wild places around the world may or may not be treacherous death traps, but the guidebook controversy is an interesting story. I started looking into it when I was on vacation in Kauai last month, and I got a lot of negative reactions when I pulled out the aforementioned guidebook. The woman at our hotel activity counter was actively upset -- "we don't like that book." It was also conspicuously absent from bookshelves in little local stores. After I read up on their concerns, I started taking the book's advice with a grain of salt, for sure. It's not the only guidebook with a bad reputation -- it's just the most visible.

I found the death toll sign to be one of the most fascinating things about this particular site. It's locals taking matters into their own hands.

While researching this post, I found a few other pictures of similar handmade warning signs at other locations, but of course, I can't find them here at work. This was the only one I saw with an honest-to-god death count.

- just a tourist
posted by liet at 12:24 PM on July 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


Of course, now I find another great sign -- this one's on the famous Kalalau Trail. (Also via the excellent A Kauai Blog.)
posted by liet at 12:38 PM on July 16, 2010


In case anyone's curious, the "up-and-down" I was talking about was the first few miles of the Kalalau Trail, from Ke'e to Hanakapi'ai Beach. The trail down into Hanakapi'ai was basically a river of mud, and families with small children in flip-flops were still attempting the hike!
posted by muddgirl at 1:16 PM on July 16, 2010


My favorite Hawaiian warning sign isn't handmade, but it does have character.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:32 PM on July 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


The Revealed Hawaii books are great guides. I have repurchased my copy of Maui Revealed three times after lending it out and leaving it for locals. There are lots of guides to off the beaten path locations, but they are always very responsible about the dangers and precautionary measures to take. The fact is that Hawai'i is way more wild than most tourists are used to places being and people are stupid. Most of the "adventures" listed in the book I would never attempt because I'm just not in great physical shape and not a thrill seeker, but I would never have seen half the stuff I've seen on Maui if it weren't for that book.
posted by threeturtles at 3:30 PM on July 16, 2010


"ahem, nature is dangerous if you get hurt it's on you."

On big surf days in Waikiki I'd sit with surfers way outside (out deeper, waiting for big sets) and we would quietly watch tourists paddling out with plastic rafts, tubes, etc. The lulls between sets could be as long as 30 minutes - time enough for the idiots to get positioned right under an overhead set. The ensuing mayhem was entertaining.

Okay, okay, once I did chase some kids back into the shallows before the set came. And, truthfully, on the really big days Honolulu pays extra for the lifeguards to jetski out to get all kooks who are out there without fins or experience.
posted by Surfurrus at 1:31 PM on July 17, 2010


Speaking as a resident of Kaua'i, I think the main issue here is a lack of understanding concerning just how unpredictable and powerful the ocean is. I see people in the water constantly who don't grasp the fact that the ocean doesn't move according to your schedule or desires. When I first started surfing the first thing my wife made sure that I knew was that you never stop keeping an eye on the water.
I feel like most of the people who visit from the mainland are maybe used to there always being lifeguards on beaches, whereas here most of the beaches don't have lifeguards.
Some of the most beautiful and wonderful places on the island are miles away (by land or water) from help if you're in trouble.
If these guidebooks are pointing out places like Queen's Bath, they have a responsibility to reinforce the level of caution that should be used in those spots.
My wife deals with this constantly--she manages a surf shop--either through cautioning people concerning the breaks they choose to try out or dealing with the fallout when they return equipment that's damaged, or they themselves are injured. The biggest problem is that on the whole, most tourists don't take her advice.

I guess the most important message that could be sent here is:
Kaua'i is a beautiful place mostly because it's wild and almost totally undeveloped. But that also means that a lot of the time, you're out there on your own. There are places you shouldn't be going if you're not a strong swimmer/experienced surfer/generally ill prepared.
If you see a hand painted sign, made by the people who were born and raised and live on the island cautioning you about going someplace . . . PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT IT SAYS.
Believe me, they know better than you.
posted by kaiseki at 1:38 AM on July 19, 2010


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