Julia Stephenson: The Green Goddess

Hold the spiritual - I'll take the spa ritual
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The Independent Online

I'm still in Honolulu brushing up on my hula dancing, swimming in the balmy sea and working through the Mandarin Oriental's spa menu.

I'm still in Honolulu brushing up on my hula dancing, swimming in the balmy sea and working through the Mandarin Oriental's spa menu.

Although I know all beauty treatments are pointless, I am a feeble-minded lapsed hedonist. I've been coming to this lovely hotel for 15 years and always return glowing, without the need for fancy beauty treatments. Modest beauty needs are provided for at the hotel's unpretentious beauty salon, and that was it.

But this year, fancy "Spa Suites" have miraculously appeared, offering "a personal healing Hawaiian sanctuary" - an irresistible cornucopia of massages, facials and "spiritual journeys" that rather puts the modest salon in the shade.

After 18 hours of flying, I was desperate for a massage. Thank heavens for the Spa Suites! What I wanted was a monster to crack open my knots, but what I got was aboriginal pipe music (hello?) and Tibetan bells. I mean, if one wants a spiritual journey, head to a temple. But in our godless world where religion is a dirty word, spirituality "lite" has become an optional add-on in the beauty salon. I mean, praying is, like, such hard work, I think I'll go get a massage instead.

Before I could head towards the couch my kindly male "spa guide" (I'm not sure about being massaged by men; I feel they should be paying me, not the other way round) gently manoeuvred me towards a dentist-type chair and proceeded with the "spa ritual".

Tibetan bells were rung and mantras sung. Hands waved and dolphins warbled. My feet were washed in salts, oils and mysterious unguents. Eventually, I was led to the bed and massaged through a thick towel. A towel! Did he fear some fatal cross-pollination?

Americans have a prudish disapproval of nudity and "liquor". Until last year I always had to show my passport when I bought "liquor" (despite being well over 21). I pretended to be irritated, but of course I was flattered. This year, nobody asked! Running for public office must have aged me. Talk about no good deed going unpunished.

In a bid to restore youthful bloom, I had a facial in the modest beauty salon. There the no-nonsense Connie Gayle, Hawaii's own Eve Lom, steamed, exfoliated and massaged my face with prongs. I emerged with glowing skin and jet-lag eye-bags erased.

Fully refreshed, the next day we visited Manoa Falls, wandering through ancient Polynesian rainforest, scented with gardenia and white ginger, showering in thundering waterfalls and swishing through silver streams amid lush vegetation.

Hawaii is 3,000 miles from the nearest land mass and has a unique ecosystem, with many plants and animals found nowhere else on earth. Shockingly, nearly three quarters of all the extinct plant and bird species in the US were native to Hawaii. More than half of Hawaii's 140 birds have vanished, and many more are close to extinction. Hawaii is the GM capital of the world, and corruption is endemic. There are no building constraints: if you have land you can build. Prescott heaven.

Although the average American is frighteningly ignorant of matters eco, there is a burgeoning Green movement here. Cha Smith, of the Hawaiian Environmental Alliance, is optimistic. "Due to sheer grassroots pressure, we have just saved 3.5 million acres of coral reef that was due to be destroyed. It shows it is possible for concerned individuals to win over greedy corrupt organisations."

Hawaiian music, language, customs and medicine are staging a comeback. The language, still spoken by elderly Hawaiians in rural areas, is now taught in schools. It even has its own TV channel.

Soon I must hula off to the airport for my gas-guzzling flight home. I'm convinced that if we applied the ingenuity required to fly to the Moon, we would have planes that fly on eco-friendly fuel by now. Gordon from Green Motorsport tells me solar-powered planes ( www.pvresources.com/en/helios.php) are here, and the first solar-powered cargo ship ( www.2wglobal.com) is already afloat. All we need is the political will to take it to the next level.

Mr Robbins from Slough suggests that instead of paying people to plant trees in Africa, frequent flyers should plant trees here. With the permission of his local authority, he plants native trees such as hornbeam, oak, cherry and elder in public places. You can buy "whips" (small trees) for 50p from garden centres.

So if you see a frantic hooded figure in Hyde Park digging away in the dead of night, don't jump to sinister conclusions. I'll just be doing my bit to offset my carbon emissions.

For information on Hawaii's biodiversity, see www.earthjustice.org/regional/honolulu. www.nature.org/hawaii is giving away DVDs of Hawaiian nature and folklore