We almost didn’t come here because we dont so much like the idea of beach resorts, leis and coconuts. But the flights were the cheapest and shortest to escape the cold and rain in Seattle so without accommodation or itinerary we found ourselves on Hawaiin Airlines, 7 hours away from Kauai.
I guess i was still expecting it to be an over-the-top tourist destination so i was happily surprised to find the open air kauai airport speckled with roosters and chickens, and as run down as any small town mexican airport i’d ever seen. The signs pointed to taxi stands and car rentals amd there was no evidence of a public transport system.
The car rental booths were all shut except for one. For $60 a day we almost secured a small pickup until asked to present a matching credit card and driver’s license. Ivan’s license had expired and i dont own a credit card and after an hour or so of phone calls and persuasion we were still carless. Carless and homeless and i’m not sure if it was the comfort of the warm air, but neither of us appeared particularly stressed about the situation. I seem to have this peculiar trust in the universe and it seems to work out for me more often than not. So far, at least.
We decided that a place to sleep was probably more important than the freedom of our own vehicle and no doubt a lot easier to secure. Accommodation on kauai is NOT cheap. The island is scattered with expensive resorts and ever-so-slightly-less-expensive condos, which makes it even more impressive that the island doesn’t feel touristy. We managed to score a last minute deal on a resort nearby so we agreed we to spend a night there and find something better as soon as possible. Resort living feels fake and impersonal. We might as well be in fiji for all i could tell. But the air was warm and the place was fancy so we got our money’s worth of friendly service, hot tubs, swimming pools, cozy white towels and buffet breakfasts.
A 10 minute taxi ride to the local town of kapaa cost us $20. We ate vegan burritos and corn chips, spent $4 on a carton of organic soy milk from the grocery store and handed over the inevitable return fare as our driver dropped us back at the resort. We knew we couldnt keep this up and so we spent the good part of a day trying to make other arrangements.
After playing phone tag with a lady named Crystal and forking outrageous wireless internet fees to keep in touch with a lady named Ellie, our potentially dismal holiday took a beautiful turn for the best. We checked out of the resort and handed over $140 cash to Crystal in a super-market parking lot who handed us the keys to a white 4wd grand cherokee. So now I was in the driver’s seat, windows down (broken a.c), check engine light on (‘just ignore that’), old school hip hop on the stereo (what else?), Ivan sitting next to me and the whole of kauai to explore at our leisure. Nice work, Universe.
People on kauai are pleasant. Ivan had read something about them being rude and irritated, so maybe our low expectations gave them an advantage, but we had no bad experiences to speak of. A taxi driver boasted of the sense of community on the island: neighbours helping neighbours, local kids calling him ‘uncle’, low crime rates, regular church goers etc. But with a population of less than 100,000 and apparently around 30,000 visitors on the island at any given time (don’t quote me on that), it is easy to see how it feels more like a holiday beach town with seasonal communities than a solid year-round community. That’s just the vibe we got from being visitors for a week.
The first thing that we had to come to terms with was the weather. Warm, yes, but also windy, rainy, sunny, cloudy and kind of chilly. Huh? Yeah. So it’s a micro-climate which apparently means that when its pouring with rain you mustnt worry! In 5 minutes the sun will be out again. And if it feels particularly wet today, drive 20 minutes south and you will escape the rain for the day. I figured i needed to experience it to believe it, but even though ive experienced it i still dont really believe it. It’s weird, but it works. The weather really didnt bother us at all.
Based on this weather theory that the south is sunnier, the internet told us to stay in the south. So after many emails with Ellie, we finally confirmed our 3 night vacation rental in Poipu. It was a gorgeous little garden suite that suited us perfectly, but you know that when your host tells you that the best place for your morning coffee is the starbucks down the road, you’re in the wrong place.
The beach was nice but predictable, the climate was definitely drier, we saw less locals and it felt like a beach town designed for wealthy old people.
In the north we drank coffee at local roasteries and ate hippie but not overly outrageously priced organic food. People ate meals on the grass around the shops and kids ran around everywhere. The rain kinda sucked but it made everything feel more lush and the sun just that much more exciting. We surfed up north in Hanalei with a barely 20 year old guy who had grown up on the island and claimed to be a personal chef slash surfing instructor who wanted 5 kids one day.
I have funny feelings about being a tourist. When i visited new york for the first time i was by myself and had 3 days. I made friends with a couple of young guys and we spent our time walking the streets of manhatten and brooklyn trying not to ‘keep looking up’. If i can buy the postcard i generally dont have a desire to see it, give or take a few instances. Rocking up in a car or a bus to take pictures alongside hundreds of other people snapping the same thing seems immensly underwhelming in most cases. You can’t buy a postcard of the local culture or the smells or the tastes of a city. And while your snapping the same images you can buy on a postcard you’re typically missing most of the most interesting differences and new experiences.
So we began each day with no agenda except to see where the day would take us and it worked out every time. We ran barefoot through muddy trails to not-so-secret waterfalls. We jumped in canoes unguided down a river. We became regulars at our favourite taco place. We did early morning yoga with locals. We were strongly advised not to start on the canyon trail after 10am, (it was 1pm) but after my own assessment of the situation (the meanness of the woman advising us, our fitness levels, our desire for something a little bit more adventurous), we decided to go for it. This resulted in a very satisfying adreneline pumping death-defying 10 mile hike with the best views possible of the NaPali coast without a helicopter or kayak. Definitely worth it.
We raced sunset across clifftops and ran early morning along beach fronts. We shopped at KMart and used our discount card at the local grocer. We ate vegan except for the fresh ahi and a couple eggs and just once (after the canyon) we tried the must-have shave ice over mac-icecream. I’m heavier than i was at the start of the trip, but it was totally worth it.
We drank at a local bar and listened to local live music. We sat in local cafes for hours, people watching, reading and sketching tattoo ideas on napkins.
This morning we woke up at 8 to watch the football. (I dont even know myself anymore.) We had spent our last night in a resort near the airport and at breakfast we were sitting next a man named matt and his baby daughter who were from Seattle also.
At the beginning of our holiday i wondered if one week would be enough. At breakfast i felt my tummy bursting and craving a home-cooked meal. I felt the salt and humidity in my hair. I felt the slight sting of sun on my legs against the chair. I felt the anonymity and ambiguity of the resort. I made funny faces at Matt’s little baby sitting next to us and my heart leaped at the thought of seeing Mika again. One week was definitely enough. One week was perfect.
(Then we landed in Seattle airport in our flip-flops and shorts at 11pm and I quickly changed my mind. It’s too cold. We should have made arrangements for mum to send Mika to us in Hawaii).
6 months in Mexico. What an adventure. A quick re-cap:
When we first arrived I couldn’t help but notice the differences.
I stopped washing my hair (For the record, I lasted 6 weeks. Then I washed it and kinda wished I hadn’t. I’m definitely trying this again!) and stopped using face wash (baking soda & honey are amazing!)
We re-visited some of the same spots we did when I was pregnant.
I fell in love with twilight.
And now we’re off to Seattle to start our next adventure!
- Cheap good avocados, reliably
- The way that people say ‘que hermosa!’ and ‘mira! que bonita‘ all the time when they see Mika
- How the people from the local store always scoop Mika up the second we walk in and play with her til we leave
- How around 5pm when the sun is low, kids play around the streets
- Sunday lunches with Ivan’s mum and brother’s family
- The great typography and bright colors on buildings and taco stands
- The way that the taco stands all start setting up on their corners just before dark, in anticipation for the families and people who will soon head out to eat
- Fresh corn tortillas a 30 second walk away from our house
- Fresh flour tortillas a 2 minute walk away from our house
- The awesome cinema (with new lazyboy reclining chairs and to-your-seat service) that reliably fucks up every movie at some point so we can keep going back for free
- Being able to leave Mika with her grandma and just pop out to see a movie
- Fresh coconut water from the coconut.
- Evening walks where the warm breeze makes it super comfortable being in short shorts and jandals
- Being able to take Mika to see her little cousins whenever we like
- Hanging out with Ivan all day, everyday, whenever we feel like it
- And for some reason the lack of variety here, making beans and vegetables the most desirable meal option for multiple days in a row will surely have some kind of nostalgic appeal to it one day
We have been in Mexico for waaaay too long now. As much as I love spending time with Ivan’s family, I am so excited to have more human interaction on a daily basis that isn’t through Skype. As much as I love that avocados and limes are so cheap, I can’t wait to have a full variety of vegetables to choose from. I can’t wait to buy vegetables that aren’t wilted or already dead.
The temperature has increased to a casual 35 degrees+ during the day and so all we can do is just sit around inside waiting for the sun to go down. There are no swimming pools. There are no exciting indoor places. There are no huge shady parks with lush grass. There is no beach or lake for swimming. I HATE how much I have started to dislike this place.
For four months I made daily affirmations about what I was grateful for. Being here, spending endless time with Ivan and Mika together, seeing Ivan’s brothers and his mum. But now it’s been a little bit too long. I’m so ready to leave.
(This little girl on the other hand, doesn’t care about vegetables or excessive heat or lack of things to do. Ivan found an old toy car in the back of ‘the room dangerously filled with so much stuff that you really shouldn’t try to go inside’ that must have belonged to one of his brother’s kids. Mika’s current favourite thing to do is to have early morning or late afternoon walks in this thing. It is her FAVOURITE thing in the world. Like she just sits there, holding the little steering wheel and watching the world go past. She turns around every once in a while and blows us a kiss and grins so big that everything feels wonderful again. She smiles and waves at passersby and she can stay so still in it for such long walks.)
Before we got to Seattle I quickly googled ‘good places to eat in Seattle’ and ‘good places to eat in Ballard’. The reviews and recommendations were a little overwhelming, so I jotted down a few names but decided to rely on word of mouth once we arrived and also for some of that satisfying stumble upon good luck. So here is my very brief, no photo review of some of the places we went. (By no means a list of where to go… just a list of where we did go.)
Lunch & Dinner
Mama’s Mexican Kitchen, Belltown
So we have just travelled for 16 hours away from Mexico and our first stop when we’re hungry, tired and in need of some cheap good filling food fast? Mama’s Mexican Kitchen. I’d been here twice before and I knew that it was good and cheap. But I hadn’t remembered how good and cheap. I ordered the Tofu Fajitas which were beyond amazing. Sizzling platter, mixed vegetables, generous amounts of firm tofu, beans, rice, the works. (To make it vegan, ask for no cheese on the beans and get guacamole instead of sour cream). Ivan ordered a huge burrito, and Mika nibbled on everything we gave her from our plates. The atmosphere here is like fun-house meets crazy relative’s living room meets bar meets mexico. It’s spot on awesome and the staff are fun and relaxed. Very baby friendly.
Jhanjay, Vegetarian Thai, Ballard
Since living in Mexico I’ve been missing Thai food and Indian food. Sometimes I just want to order some takeaways and watch a movie! We’d heard good things about this place and so one evening we decided to pop in. So glad we did! The staff were so sweet with Mika, cooing and talking to her plenty. We ordered a mild vegetable soup for her which she loved and Ivan and I shared a pad thai and vegetable stir fry. We polished everything off, it was everything I’d hoped for and more. My only regret is that we didn’t go back again!
India Bistro, Ballard
We met some friends here for dinner so I could get my Indian fix. The place looks pretty awful from the outside, but we walked past it everyday and it was always packed – definitely a sign of some good authentic indian food. The dinner was great – we ordered the Aloo Gobhi, the Saag Paneer and the Eggplant Bharta, the latter being my favourite. We actually came back here for their $7 buffet lunch special which I was nervous would be a real meat-fest. However I was pleasantly surprised to see that the majority of the buffet dishes were vegetarian! The only complaint here was that the waitress was a real bitch. We brought Mika along (obviously) and they had a highchair for her, but as Mika proceeded to drop broccoli pieces on the floor the waitress became uber bitch and couldn’t help expressing her disgust. Whatever. Good food though.
This place was described to us as ‘kind of a twist on korean food’, which to be honest, after a hot yoga class, was the last thing I felt like. My only experience of Korean food was definitely not something I felt like reliving. But wow. I am so glad that we trusted this particular recommendation and didn’t back out at the last second. This place was by far our favourite meal of the trip. We ate dishes with descriptions like ‘Hearts of palm, spinach, smoked peanut, miso vinaigrette’ and ‘Chick pea, roasted cauliflower, mustard yogurt’ and ‘Blackened tofu, king oyster mushroom confit, Chinese broccoli’ and Ivan drank a cocktail called ‘Ginger’s Revenge’ with Jim Bean, St. Germain, Canton Ginger, Lemon and Angostura Bitters. The atmosphere was funky and a bit loud, (say the people with the 1 year old mind you), and no-one batted an eyelid as I breastfed Mika in my chair. We even met a foursome from Vancouver who claimed to have come to Seattle just for the night to dine at this place. Go now!
Shiku Sushi, Ballard
Where do you go on a Friday night with your 1 year old baby in tow? To a bustling sushi restaurant and bar of course! (I kid). But seriously these guys were amazing to us. Mika was being fussy and a little destructive, our table was tiny and the place was packed. But still, the staff were cheerful and friendly, the atmosphere was jovial and the food was in.cred.ible. If it hadn’t been for Mika being quite exhausted we would probably have stayed and stuffed our tummies to the point of painful. We shared 1) Green Sea Monster Roll – Tofu and tempurad green onions topped with chopped tomatoes, jalapenos and seaweed salad. and 2) Veggie Delux Roll – Tempurad sweet potato, carrots, succhini, green beans, & asparagus w/ Kill sauce on side. The second one sounds better, but the first was SO much better. So, so good.
Root Table, Ballard
Another ‘fusion’ place, this place was cosy and earthy and quite romantic really. We ordered the root fries to keep Mika entertained, she loved them. The staff were so helpful and lovely to Mika. They helped us choose some amazing vegetarian dishes and they didn’t so much mind when most of Mika’s root fries ended up on the floor. Ivan indulged in some incredible cocktails (I know cause I sipped them) and the meals were huge.
Coffee, Tea & Snacks
Ballard Coffee Works
The coffee here is by far the best I tasted in Seattle. I don’t even know what coffee they used, I just know that my morning 8oz americano, enjoyed whilst watching Mika play around in the kids play-area, made me feel like everything in the world was joyous and wonderful. Mika and I came here most mornings for a quick coffee and a play – it was especially awesome when other wee kiddos were playing too!
Fresh Flours, Ballard & Phinney Ridge
French? Or asian? I dunno – but it’s beautiful. Croissants, yam wraps, macarons, green tea and adzuki bean muffins, Stumptown Coffee… Hence another place we visited often. No highchairs, but Mika was content with scrambling around the comfy bench seats.
The Dutch Bike Shop Cafe, Ballard
On the ground floor of the building Ivan spent 2 weeks in, this little cafe is so perfect. Their tag line is: beer, bicycles and wine and they’re actually a bike shop with a little cafe and bar. Perfection much?
Anchored Ship Coffee Bar, Ballard
Across the road from Fresh Flours in Ballard, this place is smaller and cuter and the guy who made our coffee was a sweet musician who’d spent some time in New Zealand and was hoping to make it to New Orleans. Good coffee, not Stumptown, but still good. They also serve little tiny chocolate espresso beans by the handful which delighted me. Not so much baby and pram friendly, although we sat outside a couple times and it was AOK.
Firehouse Coffee, Ballard
This place looked much too big and American to me at first. But it was just down the road from us and I had read online that it had an awesome kid’s play area. Woah baby, I’m glad we checked it out. They take their play area seriously, in an entirely separate room for the little ones, equipped with couches and tables for parents to sip coffee whilst keeping one eye on their bebes. Mika was in play heaven. The coffee was cafe Vita, which was good, not amazing, but good. Go here if you have kids. It’s actually cosy, despite how it may seem from the outside.
Bouteloua Bakery, Ballard
It was raining and we stumbled upon a vegan bakery of all places. A vegan bakery with a play area for Mika and a high chair and free wifi. They serve nice coffee with a huge variety of vegan milk choices (i didn’t sample any) and heaps of vegan baked treats. I actually shared the vegan Moroccan lentil soup with Mika and I had a chocolate croissant for dessert. Tasty. The soup was incredible and the coffee was just OK. Very cute place though.
Bluebird Microcreamery, Fremont
We finished our meal at Revel with an ice cream from Bluebird. The place is cute and dark and quiet. They serve vegan icecream which I sampled and Ivan had the snickerdoodle icecream in a waffle cone which tasted like christmas. Highly recommended.
Miro Tea, Ballard
They don’t serve coffee. I came here after I was seriously coffee’d out and Mika was well asleep in the stroller. I sat and drank a 20oz pot of herbal tea whilst reading my Walking Dead comic book. I wish I’d been hungry cause their treats looked delish. I also wish I’d come back cause their selection of teas was pretty impressive.
Local Color, Pike Place Market
Black bean and yam wrap with a black 8oz americano. Couches. Friendly and warm. Good coffee (especially Ivan’s soy latte…woah) and pretty tasty food. Mika loved the couches at the back. Lots of nice art on the walls.
Java Bean Coffee, Ballard
For real we weren’t even going to go in here. It looked…lame. But then we asked a dude on the street where the best place to get a coffee would be and he said ‘Java Bean’ and we squinted our eyes and looked at him good and hard and asked again ‘the best place?’ we asked, trying to determine if this guy knew good coffee or not. And he squinted right back at us and looked at us good and hard and said ‘oh wait, you don’t want a starbucks do you?’ and we relaxed and laughed and said ‘no!’ and he relaxed and laughed and said ‘oh good! so yeah, go to Java Bean’. So we did. And it was good. Reminded me a lot of ‘bean around the world’ in Vancouver. They sell eggel bagels and lots of slices and muffins and sweet breakfast type breads. Nice couches and nice staff.
If you have any recommendations or agreements or objections for Seattle dining or coffee, leave a comment!