Mele Kalikimaka!

I just returned from Kauai and am reflecting on a world with clearer vision on this Christmas day.  Normally when I travel I write daily.  Upon arriving in Kauai, I decided in the spur of the moment to share my trip with friends and family blog-style.  

Having been around the world, Hawai was another check on my bucket list.  Little did I know how it would change me and perhaps even change my path.  My first clue came when I left the airport and headed towards the Kauai north shore.  As I drove north things happened…the landscape changed, the weather was different, the smell of the air was cleaner, even the way the light fell changed.

Then I came upon a segment in the road that made my eyes widen and a smile begin to creep across my face. A curve to the right opened up the gift of African Albesia trees, red flora, green pastures, and pure wonder. This was the Hawaii of my dreams.

Road to Hanalei

As I drove down into the Hanalei Valley, I could feel the stress of my crazy corporate life begin peeling away, layer by layer, like an onion. By the time I got to the one lane bridge you must cross to get into Hanalei, I knew I was somewhere special.

Hanalei Bridge

Day 3 in Kauai

Today I woke early and headed for morning sustenance at Java Kai. I can’t get over how good the coffee is here. I want it at every meal! They weren’t serving food yet so I settled for coffee and a bagel and headed out for a 45 minute drive to Ka ‘paa where I met my sea kayaking crew. It was a wonderful drive. The sun was coming up over the ocean. The colors were all orange and pink and the ocean looked like glitter.

Sun rises as I drive south

Ocean glitters as the sun comes up

Once we got to our launch site, my legs were so stiff (the hike yesterday is still with me!) I had to stretch for a bit. We had three different two seater sit top kayaks. In addition to the guide, there was a great couple from Oregon and a whiney Lesbian couple from Denver. They were nice until they weren’t strong enough to carry their kayak down to the shore (I did it for them) AND they gave up two-thirds of the way so the guide and I each had to paddle one of them home….but it was fun anyways.

After about 10 minutes, we were nearly dive bombed by a frigate bird chasing a white tropical long tail bird. Apparently frigates frighten smaller birds until the small bird drops it’s catch. What a way to start!

We also saw several huge sea turtles and stopped at a buoy to snorkel. There we saw lots of angel fish swimming in a large school but everyone was starting to get frustrated that we hadn’t seen any whales in our first 6 miles or so. Finally, off in the horizon, we saw a tail breach! Ahhh, check that one off of the bucket list.

Not more than a mile later, though, we heard a huge blowing sound just behind us. Everyone looked at each other, not exactly sure what we heard. Then a whale breached her whole body not more then 50 yards away. It was spectacular. There were at least two of them, playing with each other. It was quite a sight. I was in a boat with the guide and turned to watch, not moving away. Unfortunately the whiney lesbian chicks were scared and began shrieking like banshees. Needless to say, we had to move on, but what an experience! Our guide said he’s only seen them that close once before, from a catamaran.

We stopped for lunch at a deserted beach, with no one around and no manmade sounds…just the birds. I had to walk because by now my legs were even more stiff and aching from not moving them. As I made my way down the beach, I saw passionfruit growing wild in the trees on the bank. I picked as many as I could carry and we all had fruit for dessert (although it was a bit tart)!

It was quite a trek so I’m expecting that my upper body tomorrow will feel like my lower body did today. Our guide, Steve lives near my Cowgirl Haven. He suggested I meet him for some jacuzzi action to ‘help my muscles.’ Man, have I got it going on in Hawaii! Apparently Kauai used to be nicknamed Man Island because there weren’t any chicks!

Anyways, anxious to take a shower and find food (I was ravenous after 5 hours of kayaking), I headed out back up to the north shore. En route I stopped at a road side shack called Banana Joes. There they made me a frosty/smoothy concoction from banana, papaya, coconut, and who knows what else. It was so refreshing after a long day-cold and semisolid like soft serve, sweet but barely so. It was perfect. I also bought rambutan (red, hairy, tastes kinda like a grape), mangosteen, fresh macadamias, and homemade coconut tapioca pudding.

Rambutan Whole

Rambutan peeled

Back home and cleaned up, I lazily ordered Chinese (Kauai pork and cabbage, which turned out to be much better than expected), took ibuprofen as a second course, then settled into TWO desserts! Coconut rice pudding and lilikoi pie. Lilikoi is made from passionfruit concentrate and is impossibly light, sweet, tangy, and creamy all at the same time.

Off to rest my sore muscles (and ribs from surfing, too). Tomorrow might be a lazy day, we shall see!

Days 1 – 2 Kauai

First 24 hours of my great Kauai adventure:

After the normal rigors of getting bags, renting car, blah blah blah, I had an hour drive to Hanalei, a sleepy little surf town on the North Shore where I’m spending my first five nights. I’m staying at the Hanalei Surfboard House (in the Cowgirl Cottage, which is fabulous).

Hanalei Surfboard House

I arrived around 5 and went “downtown” (about 3 blocks in total). Ravenous, I had Huli Huli chicken and macadamia cream pie (you know me, as much local food as I can get)…Yum! Returning home (about 4 blocks from downtown), I settled into the Cowgirl.

I’d schlepped across the pond a bottle of fantastic wine Uncle Bob and Darien gave me. I decided to open it up and start the holiday right! The Cowgirl is on the other side of the road from the beach but with all the windows open, I sipped wine, listened to the ocean, and relaxed my jet lagged bones.

When I woke today, I was ready for surfing. I met a guide by the Hanalei Pier (too chicken to try it alone with it being the winter high wave season and all). The instructor turned out to be Keaton- all of maybe 20, and that might be generous. He looks like the guy that costarred with Brooke Shields in the movie Blue Lagoon. Impossibly sun drenched blonde hair, honey brown tan, so physically fit it isn’t even funny. Talking to him, I discovered Pidgin, also called Da Kine. It is a language that tells the story of a diverse Hawaii since it developed over time as many different ethnicities came together. It is common among native Hawaiians but not used often with haole (foreigners).

It was raining off and on so the beach was empty and we had all of Hanalei Bay to ourselves. Ethereal mountains in the background, warm water, soft sand, and all to myself….what have I done to deserve this charmed life?!

Even in winter on the north shore (which means big waves), I managed to get up on the board every time and only had a few colossal wipeouts- thanks to Boot Camp Benji Butt Kicker! Many hours of swimming, paddling, push ups, and squats on the board and I was good to go the whole time. Boot camp does a body good! Leaving the pier, Keaton asked if I would like to hang later, which begs the question, at what age does cougar-dom begin? At 35 am I a cougar or simply a fun chick that rocked the board?

The salt water messed my contacts up, so back to the cottage for a shower, nap, and glass of wine (yes, it was early, but why not?). By now it was raining harder so I went to Bubba Burger. I had a divine concoction that makes Bens Chili Bowl in DC move down to the minor leagues. Rice, hamburger patty, cheese-definitely of the nongourmet variety, hot dog, chili, onions….all in one bowl. Plus a diet Coke, which is weird with that meal. Wow. Diet be damned.

On the way home I stopped at a roadside hole in the wall where I picked up a roasted boar and corn dish for dinner and some Hawaiian hot sauce for dear Uncle Bob. En route, Santa on a motorcycle passed me….an odd sight in rural Hawaii I must say!

The rest of the afternoon was spent buying gifts, whew got that over with. Then back to the cottage to get a glass of wine and walk to the beach to watch the sunset. I’m now settling down for my wild boar bonanza, wondering if I should respond to Keaton’s text….What the hell, I’m in Hawaii, right?


Tomorrow is a hike along the Kalalau Trail!

Day 2

I’ve decided, I want Hanalei to be my home. I’d be happy to do not much here. It is such an unassuming, laid back town of surfers, hippies, and the occasional tourist. If you ever come to Kauai, skip the south and east tourist traps, come here.

I started the day with the most amazing coffee and a spicy breakfast burrito that was just perfect from Java Kai. After I devoured my entire plate, I met a girl/woman who was from Buffalo. She and her boyfriend just up and moved here. Sight unseen. How brave and fun! Food for thought….

From there I went to hike the Kalalau Trail. To get there, you drive until the road ends, literally. It feels like the beginning of the world. The hike was 4 miles in and out, which doesn’t sound hard, but it was very much so. In fact, I just learned that Backpacker Magazine has named it one of the top 10 most hazardous trails, but boy is it worth it! Each step up or down the mountains was slippery and technical. After the first two miles you reach a beach only accessible by the one trail. The next two miles took an hour and a half to walk….tough going. At one point I was ready to turn back when the group I tagged along with gave up. Fortunately this great couple from Phoenix suddenly appeared and helped plow ahead. They were in their late 40’s and extraordinarily fit. It was tough keeping up, I hurt even as I write this!

The reward at the end was beyond anything I have ever experienced. The falls are more than 30 stories high. The cliffs and rocks were all covered in green moss and white birds soared above. I’ve been to Bali, France, Switzerland, all over the US, and many more places and never seen anything more breathtaking. Below the falls is a clear pool with very cold water. We swam all the way under the falls and sat on a ledge behind them. I daresay it was a life changing experience. When I die I want my ashes scattered here. Good luck to whoever has to make the 6 hour trek! The route back was hard, the last half mile my quads were visibly shaking and I’m sure I was quite a sight- covered in sweat and red mud…but it was completely worth it!

For dinner, I went to the Dolphin. It wasn’t quite open yet so I sat at the bar. Who came up and sat next to me? Titus Tinimaka, a pro surfing legend. I had read about him in one of my Kauai books and recognized him immediately, despite the fact that he was completely unassuming and kind. I asked him if he was Titus and he said yes…..I told him about my hike and inquired about his day. He had spent it filming a documentary about Laird Hamilton’s dad (Laird is married to Gabriella Reese and is a surfing icon as well). They had filmed his dads dog today (he apparently surfs big waves, too!). What a great guy, fun to listen to, and generous as well.

When the sushi bar was finally ready, I sat next to two wealthy, hilarious, gay guys who spend every December in Kauai. They kept me entertained and in stitches. All in all, a great day!


Tomorrow-a 9 mile whale watching kayak trip!