Sunday, December 28, 2008

Kauai Part II - the North Shore, with a little Waikiness thrown in

Thursday, Dec 18, we headed to the North Shore to cap off our vacation in a yurt. We first stopped in Lihue to exchange my phone - the first one I had kept freezing up and I would have to remove the battery to reboot. Not very convenient! I had been in daily touch with my kid who was house - and cat- sitting for us. He regaled me with tales of the snow and conditions in Seattle. I didn't grow up with snow and normally would have been bummed about missing it all, but every time I spoke to someone back home, I relished where I was even more. It was crazy there!

Our journey took us into Hanalei where we stopped by the grocery to stock up on food and beer. We also checked out some of the shops and bought some souveniers. Our gas tank was getting low - Donn realized later he was looking at the wrong guage. He likes to run the tank way down (and we have run out of gas before) whereas I like to keep a comfortable amount in there. My theory is it's because I grew up in hurricane country and you needed to make sure you had enough in the tank in case you had to evacuate. In the current case, we were heading into a very rural area with no room for breaking down on the road. We went on to the yurt with the promise that we would head to Princeville for gas the very next morning.

The yurt was past Hanalei about six miles, just past the Hanalei Colony resort. After a couple of turns on dirt roads we found it. Here's what we saw when we pulled in to the property:

We let ourselves in as no one was around, and made ourselves at home. It was on the property of the owner, Christine. She and her husband paint airplanes and travel a lot, so she was gone at the time we got there. We found inside a small refrigerator (couldn't fit all of the beer and food in there at the same time so the food had to stay out - kidding!), a hotplate, some appliances, a full bathroom (the shower was outdoors though - we used that exclusively), entertainment (TV, DVD player, CD player, games, books), a sofa, dining table, bed, writing desk, and small closet. Pretty soft for a yurt! I loved it!! There was a fan in the middle that hung from the ceiling, which had a skylight in it. Also, Donn got a new pet - a gecko....

Outside, the yard had a couple of plumeria trees that gave off a delicious scent at night. The wind would carry this through the yurt and the smell would fill it up. It was very intoxicating.

There were also a lot of other trees and the backyard was left as when they moved in an built the house. Christine also worked as a gardner and volunteered at the Limuhuli Tropical Garden. She did a wonderful job lnadscaping the yard with native plants! There was also an outdoor table which we dined at a few times. My favorite was the hammock - I had at least one nice nap in it under a couple of palm trees! It was all very peaceful and serene, and so different from anywhere I've been lately! Our directions said the beach was nearby. It took us a while but we found access down a little trail to a somewhat secluded beach. At any given time there may have been as many as four other people there; Tunnels was a couple of beaches away and that's where most of the people went. Plus the access here was known only to the locals. So nice!!

Friday, we headed back towards Princeville and rode in on fumes to fill up the tank. I was a nervous wreck so Donn made me drive. I told him I would kill him if we ran out of gas, and that I was sure the locals would support me! We shopped in Hanalei where I found my favorite store - a little variety store in the Ching Young village. The owner was an older local guy. I saw another older guy shopping there who was wearing an old tank top that said Boston Marathon on it - made of cotton, not technical material! I asked him about it and we struck up a conversation. Turned out the owner of the store qualified but didn't run it. He was 22 at the time and did a 2:59 at the Honolulu marathon. I think it must have been a long time ago cuz he was no spring chicken! After getting some board shorts and a tank top (I was starting to get the local look) we headed back to yurt central and to the beach for some snorkeling.

Our beach had a lot of live coral and it was really tricky maneuvering around it, but we saw some really cool fish. My favorite was one that looked like the sand. When it got spooked, it would burrow down til you could only see its eyes. If you didn't know it was there, you would think you were looking at a couple of rocks. The water was on the cool side so we didn't stay in long. We got back to the yurt and warmed up in the hot tub, while sipping a beer. Christine came home from her travels for the weekend and we had a nice chat. After a lovely dinner made by Donn, and a game of Scrabble in which he kicked my butt soundly, we headed off to bed and listened to the wind. We fell asleep smelling the plumerias...mmmm!

Saturday we headed to the Hanalei Farmers market. It was set in a field with a beautiful backdrop of Kaliki mountain (I think). The crowd was as thick as the University District farmer's market in the summer and the food was as good and diverse. I overheard some women exchanging Solstice wishes and how glad they were that the sun was going to be around longer. I had to laugh and said at least it's not dark at 5 here. They said but it's dark at 7 - in the morning! Then they realized I meant 5 PM! It's all relative - they won't have the luxury of it being light at 9 pm in the summer.

As I was walking around, I spied a very tall girl with only one arm and it clearly was not a birth defect. I could see the scar from where they sewed the surgical flap. It was Bethany Hamilton, and she was there shopping, wearing the local surfer uniform - board shorts and tank top. Very pretty girl - she's about 18 now. Last time we went to Kauai in 2004, she had recently been the victim of a shark attack. She was 13 and was out dawn surfing with her best friend and her best friend's dad. They were home schooled, and the dads took turns taking them out surfing in the morning and afternoon. She was already being looked at as a potential pro - she was that good. Anyway, she was bitten and lost the lower part of her arm; later they removed the rest up to the shoulder. She opted out of a prosthesis and vowed to get back on the board, and today she is (I believe) one of the top ten women in the world. She competes in the same category - i.e., not handicapped. Pretty inspirational! She's got a book out about her comeback called Soul Surfer, and a movie is in the works about it. Seeing her at the Farmer's market made my day, if not most of my vacation! You can check her out at her website.

The rest of Friday and Saturday were filled with more beach time and snorkeling. We walked to Tunnels and checked out the snorkeling there - it was even better than where we were, though swimming out to the second reef through the deep water made me nervous about sharks, especially since that's where Bethany was attacked. But we snorkeled on and enjoyed the scenery. One of the days, we walked down the beach all the way to the end, at Ke'e beach. It was a long walk - about 2.5 miles, in the sand. We checked out the scene at the end of the road and headed up the road, with a short stop by the trail head at the Kalalau trail. We would decide later whether to hike it Sunday. I was feeling torn - I could hike/run at home, but snorkeling wasn't going to happen any time soon when we got back to Seattle. I love the water and its one of the things I miss about not being near a swimmable beach. We walked the raod back home and took in the sights there. We were both pretty worked from the long walk and spent a quiet evening hanging out in and around the yurt. At night, the stars were out and we walked down to our beach and gazed and gazed. It was just too beautiful!

Sunday morning was nice, so we headed out to the beach and got in a snorkel session. Donn saw a turtle - I missed it. Boo! We came back for lunch and hung out after an outdoor shower (which we had been taking advantage of after every snorkel session). Later, we discussed whether to get in one more snorkel round or hike the Kalalau trail. As I mentioned above, hiking in Seattle was an option but snorkeling wasn't. Plus we were both a little tired from the walk the day before. In the end, we stayed "home" and snorkeled and napped on the beach.

We got our things organized Sunday night and I called Hawaiian airlines to see if we were flying to Seattle. They weren't sure but said they would call and let us know if it was canceled. Christine said we could have the yurt one more day if we needed. Monday came, and no call, so we headed out for Lihue to return the car and fly out. At the ticket counter, I asked again if we were flying all the way through to Seattle. The guy said they would know better when we got to Honolulu. I thought I should keep a bathing suit in my carry on just in case but opted not to. I did pack my trail shoes in it though, since I thought I'd need them in the snow back home, along with warm clothes. We flew to Honolulu, deboarded, and checked the Seattle flight. Canceled. What??? Other planes were going in and out of Seatac! But by that time SeaTac had closed down and Hawaiian couldn't get their planes back to fly us home!

For a while, it was a mess, trying to find our luggage, calling my boss (who said just enjoy my extended vacation - it was too crazy in Seattle), finding a cheap hotel, getting rebooked and figuring out how to get there. We got on a flight on Christmas day - direct to Seattle. They had wanted to fly us through Maui but we didn't want to take any chances! I called a friend whom I knew had been to Honolulu several times and she recommended staying in Waikiki. We found a reasonably priced hotel and figured out the bus line to get there. We still didn't have our luggage, but the awesome rep told me she would send it to our room. So off we went to wacky Waikiki on the local bus. We got quite the tour on the way there - even saw the Dole Pineapple factory! Our room was on the 14th floor and the whole experience was a huge culture shock from the yurt!! OMG - it took a day or so to adjust. The beach was way less secluded than "our beach" and the buildings were a lot taller.....

After checking in, we went out exploring and checked out the International Market. I picked up a very cute bikini for $20 in case our luggage didn't arrive. We ate some Mexican food at the food court and made our way back to our hotel. It had become a very, very long day. Our bag had arrived and I was amazed at how my spirits had lifted. Our snorkel gear was with us and we could wear summer clothes again!! We went back out to the grocery store and checked out the local scene. There were lots of Japanese tourists and there were all these people wearing sandwich boards for an indoor shooting range where you could "shoot real guns!!" We guessed they were directed at the Japanese tourists since most of them had probably never seen a real gun, much less shot one. They were also way into Christmas - it was like Disneyland for them. Crazy!

There was a lot more to do in Waikiki, but the thing I enjoyed most was the people watching. We were across the street from Fort Derussey, which led to the beach. I got in a couple runs (did some in Kauai too, that I forgot to mention - heat and humidity were killers!). Wednesday we walked to Kapiolani beach and found a snorkeling site that was reputed to be one of the best in Hawaii. It was shallow, and the coral was mostly dead (sunscreen kills the coral, as well as standing on it or grabbing it), but there were lots of fish because they feed them. We saw some species we hadn't seen before, as well as the usual. It was nice because when you got tired you could just stand up. The water was on the cool side, and a couple we met who went in with us, got out much earlier. He had snorkeled in the Florida Keys and said it was much warmer there.

The walk back was filled with more people watching, but Donn got a sore spot on his metatarsal, from walking in loose shoes or flip flops. That, and the fact that we decided too late in the day to go, put the kibosh on plans to hike up Diamond Head. So I went to the beach and got in some swimming instead. It was really fun siting off of Diamond Head and getting a good swim in! Again, people watching was primo, and I watched this woman walk backwards with a bottle of water balanced on her head, listening to her ipod. When she would pass the lifeguard stand, she'd remove an earbud and yell Merry Christmas and continue to walk backwards! We went out to eat that night at Irifune's - a Japanese restaurant my friend Tracy had recommended. The food was quite good, although I would go for sashimi stuff next time. I had the ahi stir fry, and it was cooked through. I like my tuna almost not cooked.

Christmas day I got up and got in a five mile run around the Ala Wai canal and the beach front all the way to Kapiolani Park and back along the canal. Really humid!! After a shower, the shuttle came and took us to the airport. The flight home was uneventful - we had seats in the very back - nice! Shuttle Express was not going to residential drop offs so we shared a cab with a guy who lives near us. It was another shock to be home in so much snow - and I understood it was half of what it had been! But home, we were. I really didn't want this vacation to end, and didn't expect the surprise of getting "stuck" in Waikiki. Had I been there the whole time, I would have been ready to come home. As it stands, we are already looking at other tropical places to visit - we gotta start saving pennies now!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Kauai Part I- the South Shore

Donn and I got away on December 11 and flew through Honolulu to Kauai. It was pouring rain in Honolulu when we went through - not a good sign. Especially since the marathon was in a few days (I had a friend running her first marathon there). Storms usually pass through quickly in Hawaii but this one seemed to be hanging on. Our flight was uneventful and we landed in Kauai in time to visit a couple of places on the island before checking into our cottage in Poipu.

When we got to our cottage - Koloa Landing Cottages - we found the manager in our unit cleaning up and looking very tired. The storm we saw in Honolulu had passed through Kauai early that morning and the place, save our cottage, was a disaster. Her office was flooded and all the other cottages had leaks; she had been there since 5 AM! These cottages are slated to be razed when the economy picks up for building more condos. Ours was a cute studio that used to be a boat house and was built pretty solid. Throughout the weekend the storms came and went; some were pretty spectacular but we stayed dry. Waikomo Stream near our place; it dumped into the ocean at Koloa Landing. When we arrived this is what it looked like:

By the end of the weekend it was a torrent of raging red dirt and mud:

The housekeeper at the cottage said she had lived here 19 years and had never seen anything like it! We had considered shipping our snorkel gear back home since we thought we'd not get any in with all the murky water; so glad we didn't.One of the benefits of the rains was seeing the small animals that usually live out of sight. We got a new pet - not sure what to name him (her?)- maybe Sluggo. He (she) reminded us a lot of our cat. There were also anoles hanging out eating all the bugs, which helped keep the mosquito population down.

Our friends Sarah and Zach had been up on the North Shore three days and came into town Sunday afternoon. They were going on a snorkel tour the next morning that went along the Na Pali coast. It didn't look good for snorkeling due to all the mud in the water (sharks can't tell you from a sea turtle) but we wanted to see the coast, so we managed to secure a spot on the boat. They picked us up early Monday morning and after a little talk by Captain Trent, we were off to sea in a big catamaran! I took lots of photos -too many to post here, but here are a few:

Sarah heading to the open sea

Zach contemplates life in Kauai

When we were heading back to port, someone spotted a whale or two off in the distance, so the captain steered the boat over for a look. It was a humpback and her calf. She put on quite a show, breaching and slapping her fin. Too bad my camera was below deck by then! We also saw some porpoises and a manta ray. My favorite part was laying on the deck and relaxing to the gentle sway of the boat. After a good lunch and a beer, that really hit the spot! It was a long and fun filled day and Sarah and I were pretty tired near the end of it!

All afternoon I took naps and that night I slept the best since being there. Tuesday we visited the farmer's market in Lihue in the pouring rain, and that afternoon I sneaked into the pool associated with Sarah and Zach's place. It was longer than 25 yards and had a water slide and hot tub. We took advantage of it all, getting in a nice workout, some good sliding, and good gossip in the hot tub. After dinner at our place, we met them at the bar at their condos and were treated to the best Pina Coladas I have ever had. Plus a "baked Hawaiian." Mmmm!

The next morning we met them again for an early morning snorkel - first of the trip- finally!! I saw some cool fish and had fun hanging out in the water. Later, Donn and I went to Waimea to use the internet at a cafe/art gallery and check out the west side of the island. The weather turned out to be a little cool and rainy, with some residual flooding which closed some of the roads. We kept hearing people talk about digging mud out of their homes and how much water they got, etc. Later we headed over to Kapa'a to the farmer's market. It was quite a bit bigger, and the rain had stopped, bringing out more people. Lots of hippies on this side of the island made for good people watching! Two older women who looked like aging hippies were selling vegetables. We wanted to get some kale, and one of them started giggling at her own joke about it being Russian kale - it's rushing around! I told Donn I make it a rule to never get stoned before doing retail.

The weather continued to improve and by Thursday morning it was perfect for a surfing lesson with Sarah! We hooked up with Amy from Aloha Surf lessons; we were her only two students for that 2 hour session! We did a quick ten minute lesson on land and then carried our boards down to the water where Amy stood armpit deep and helped us catch waves. She interpersed the lessons with stories of growing up in Kauai - like when Hurricane Iniki went through during her first week of high school. It destroyed the school, which made for a bunch of really happy kids! The roof blew off her house but that just meant they had to sleep in the open for a while. It was all good. Meanwhile, Donn was up on the beach and snapped photos of us. Here we are attempting to look like real surfers:

up on the board

steady now...


Surfin' Sarah shows great form!

It was great fun and after 1.5 hours, I was toast - There were a lot of plank poses and push ups involved, along with paddling. We took a break and then went out to try and catch some waves on our own, but they had gotten pretty crumbly. We have both vowed to continue lessons back home....

Donn and I took off for the North Shore that afternoon to our little yurt near Hanalei. More about that in the next post. We were so glad we were there for longer than a week, as the weather slowly improved. In Hawaii, just wait a while and it will get better!