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).