When we arrived at the airport in Kauai, there was a nice greeting from the flight attendant welcoming us to the island. That marked the end of our relaxing vacation. For the week that was to follow we were not only on vacation, we were on edge.

After retrieving our luggage at the Lihue Airport, we hopped a shuttle to the rental car agency. With a nice smile and pleasant disposition the agent instructed us about how we were responsible for any damage to the vehicle and were liable for all kinds of bad stuff that might happen to us or to others. I signed the contract in two places and initialed it in a half-dozen more, promising, I suppose (who ever reads those things?) that I’ll return their car in good shape and won’t mow down anybody in the meantime.

Our next stop was our rented condo in Poipu. Again we were greeted by a friendly woman at the Aston ResortQuest office who gave us a couple of beach towels and keys to a variety of door locks, padlocks, and safes. Then she handed us a card with the following message:

BEACH WARNING!!!

IMPORTANT: While our beaches are lovely, potential danger exists due to ever-changing water conditions. The beach can appear deceptively calm and yet be capable of inflicting severe injury or even death. When you arrive at a beach, look for warning signs and flags. Speak with lifeguards to familiarize yourself with the beach’s conditions (which will differ from season to season).

Beware: Not all beaches have warning signs, flags or lifeguards. Never turn your back on the waves or allow children to play in the water unattended. Ask about special conditions at this hotel. PLEASE TAKE THE EXTRA COPY OF THIS MESSAGE TO YOUR ROOM AND SHARE IT WITH ALL ROOM OCCUPANTS SO ALL CAN BE INFORMED OF THIS IMPORTANT WARNING!
[Evidently, the lawyers for Aston had arrived ahead of us.]

Undaunted, we mustered up our nerve the following morning and found our way to Kee Beach, a nice stretch of fine sand at the end of the road that loops most of the way around the island. Again we were greeted. This time, however, the greeting was not from a pleasant native but from a slew of signs indicating that the warning we got from the Aston rep was no fluke and that if we expect to return at all from our trip, we had better darn well stay away from the ocean.

“It’s okay,” I said. “Why would we want to go in the water anyway? It’s just Hawaii. It’s not like we can’t go swimming in the ocean back home in Santa Cruz.” (I omitted the part about how the ocean water temperature in Santa Cruz rarely rises to 60 degrees.) “Lets hit the trails instead. How dangerous can that be?” Off we went.

About two miles into the hike along the Kalalau Trail, we were met with a subset of signs indicating more hazardous conditions. (One has to wonder how the heck the Polynesians were able to land on these islands, much less colonize them, with all these treacherous circumstances.)

“Well,” we figured, “too much danger here. Better head back to the condo.”

On our way back to Poipu, we spotted a flyer from Kauai Backcountry Adventures advertising a tubing journey down an irrigation ditch. Now how dangerous could that be?

We signed up for the following morning’s trip and showed up at 8 a.m. sharp. We signed in and were handed a “Release of Liability” form to complete which included a page full of warnings from which I’ve drawn only a portion here:

I acknowledge that hiking, kayaking and tubing entails known and unknown risks, which could result in physical or emotional injury, paralysis, death, or damage to myself, to property, or to third parties…. The known and unknown risks include, among other things: slipping and falling; falling objects and rocks; water hazards; accidental drowning; exhaustion; extreme temperature exposure which could lead to hypothermia, sunstroke, sunburn, and heat exhaustion; dehydration; possible encounters with wild animals, insects, and hazardous plants.

Well we survived the ditches, tunnels, and flumes without suffering any apparent “physical or emotional injury.” What a relief. Then it was back to the safety of the condo and its double locks, where we spent the remaining days of our vacation out of harms way watching C-SPAN, ESPN, and Jerry Springer.

We will return to Kauai, but the next time we visit, we are bringing armored beach chairs for the fine sand and an attorney for the fine print.