So, remember back in the Sixties and Seventies, when just about every sitcom, sooner or later, did their season premiere in Hawaii? My particular favorite is the I Dream of Jeannie visit, which spanned at least three episodes and featured the world’s most pointless musical interlude in which singer Don Ho and a random kid (his son?) wandered the beach, climbed trees, and, at one point, Don kicked the kid in the ass for no apparent reason. Don Ho was a guest in all the sitcom Hawaii episodes, as far as I know. He was there when the Brady family got cursed by Kona. He was there when the Jeffersons… um… I don’t recall what they did. George was probably an ass, Weezie was probably wise and assertive, and Florence probably chased good-looking men.
Well, this season it was the Wilson Family Sitcom’s turn. (We don’t have a name for our show, now entering its 28th season.) Don Ho was not available to appear. (Being dead.) I didn’t ask if his ass-kicked sidekick had an asking price. Only the two original leads went on the trip. The adorable, wise-cracking kids stayed home to allow hilarity to ensue.
It’s a twelve-hour flight (give or take) to Lihue Airport on the island of Kauai. We changed flights in Phoenix. Good tip for this long flight for two people: Call the airline (Southwest doesn’t go to Kauai, sorry) and book three coach seats together. It’s cheaper than first class, and first class books WAY early and probably isn’t available anyway. But that third seat gives you breathing room! Now, we had a little challenge with the American/USAir merger. On both of our Baltimore / Phoenix flights, American decided to shuffle the seats and put our extra seat somewhere in the back of the plane, where it did us no good. The gate agents and reservations staff were great about fixing this, but it was a little disconcerting that, after more than an hour on the phone making the original reservation, they’d just change it like that.
Kauai is “the Garden Island.” It’s the farthest out of the four, and the most rural. Being there was almost like being back home in the North Carolina mountains for me, except for the daily gentle rains, the more or less constant temperatures, and the spectacular coastal views. But it felt and smelled like home. Kauai is renowned for its overpopulation of wild chickens. They’re everywhere. A lot of people complain about the noise. Having spent a lot of time on farms growing up, I found the sound soothing.
Kauai locals are very protective of the atmosphere and culture of their island. They welcome tourists, but they don’t want too much traffic coming in and out. The only commercial travel between the four islands is by air. Apparently, a few years back, someone tried to introduce an inter-island ferry. Kauai surfers met the first boat at the harbor inlet and formed a human chain to prevent its docking. The idea was quickly abandoned. But everyone we met there was extremely friendly.
It’s expensive there, as you might imagine, since anything not grown on the island has to make a long trip in. Groceries are about 30% more expensive, and gas is about a dollar a gallon higher than in Baltimore. On the upside, you can buy a bottle of Scotch at the grocery store or Wal-Mart, which is convenient. Not that I bought a bottle of Scotch.
(I bought three. Hey, it was my vacation! And yes, I finished them all. My parents were very firm about the sober children in Asia when I was growing up.)
We stayed at the Makai Resort in Princeville, a former sugar cane growing town, now one big golf course and resort. It’s actually a nice place, with plenty of walking and bike paths, and a quite decent shopping center. We started slow, walking around, viewing the Taro fields, and attending an evening session of gong therapy.
Taro is one of the premiere crops there. It’s grown in water, like rice. In fact, the taro fields were originally planted with rice by Chinese immigrants. Taro is the crop used to make the infamous Poi, a purple-gray mush with no taste but apparently a lot of nutrient content.
Gong therapy was a cool experience. You lie on the floor and meditate while the session leader strikes a gong for 30 minutes. It’s a lot more soothing than it sounds. If you don’t buy into ideas like “energy transfer,” it’s still good for your body to stop sometimes and let your mind do something other than worry over your list of things to do.
Anini Beach was our favorite of the many beaches we saw. It’s enclosed by a reef which keeps the waves calm. Not a lot of marine life for snorkeling, but great for swimming, and it’s an easy swim. I’ve never actually swum in the Atlantic, which is to murky and violent. Salt water keeps you afloat with a lot less effort. Our visit was unfortunately ended with a grain of sand blowing into Renee’s eye. Water flushing onsite did not help, and we were contemplating a trip to the emergency room. Fortunately a few minutes in the shower back home, holding the eyelid open, did the trick.
Perhaps the most amazing part of the trip was a four-hour boat tour of the Napali Coast. National Geographic apparently calls this the most beautiful place their crews have ever photographed. It’s an uninhabited stretch of rocky coast on the northwest shore of Kauai, laced with caverns. In particular, being inside the open-ceilinged cave felt like a trip to another planet. I wondered if such vistas inspired the SF filmmakers of the Fifties and Sixties, when movies were long on imagination and short on special effects. This trip included a half an hour of snorkeling. I confess to having been a bit nervous about the snorkeling. I know how to swim, but, having nearly drowned at age three, I have a remaining phobia of water over my head. This water was over my head about four times. But Claudia, our wonderful lifeguard / guide, distributed pool noodles to all along with the fins and masks, and the salt water was, again, an easy float. I’ve never snorkeled before. Swimming with fish bigger than your head is amazing.
And, of course, we attended a Luau. And, yes, we tried the dreaded poi. Actually, it tastes like mashed black beans. I didn’t mind it at all. Might even consider trying to get hold of some. But you can’t Luau every night. (I think it’s a law sponsored by this guy, the Shop Steward of Swine Local 5199.) So we ate a lot of steak. Here’s a well-kept secret: Apparently, Kauai produces a fair amount of beef. The only place you can apparently get it, on the island, is at a particular gas station. It’s delivered one day a week, and you’d better get there as the truck rolls in.
No, I’m not telling what day, what time, or what gas station. My host for this adventure would hunt me down, slaughter me, and sell my parts in that gas station cooler. Did I mention he’s an NRA member? Yeah. You only join that organization if you want to kill people and sell their parts in gas stations. There’s a scientific consensus about that. I think. Well, it sounds good anyway.
Grilling your own food on Kauai can be an adventure. The birds and chickens, unlike the cats, are not shy. A pair of Brazilian Cardinals (so-called because they’ve had all the red waxed off their chests and asses) were our constant companions while eating. (Okay, I totally made up the chests and asses thing.) We also became quite attached to a regular Cardinal (whom we of course called Richelieu) who visited our Lanai daily in search of rice.
If you like sunsets, the local Golf Club will happily rent you a golf cart (and, surprisingly, ply you with liquor at the same time) so you can see some of the best views on the island.
I still might.