Sunday, September 6, 2015

Hiding Away

Sarah did a great job of covering a lot of the ground on her last entry, so for this (possibly final) entry for our Kauai trip, I figured I'd try to blow through a lot of what we've seen and done these last couple of days. Here goes!

On Thursday, having already spent a lot of time in the (sexy, sexy) mini-van, driving around Kauai; we decided it would be a good time to... drive to the southern tip of Kauai, to Poipu! In actuality, it was the weather that sent us south. The North Shore was still expecting possible rain, and high seas as a lingering result of hurricane Ignacio; but weather reports showed that the south was supposed to be clear and that the seas were also supposed to be mellower.

So, piling the crew into the (sexy, sexy) mini-van, we drove south, passing through the Tunnel of Trees on our way to our first destination: Keiki Cove. Keiki Cove could safely described as a "pocket beach," a tiny patch of sand, wedged between two large houses and hidden by a stone wall. The cove itself was partially protected by a natural rock barrier, but the surf still proved a little too rough for swimming. So, instead, while Stella collected sand for her old pre-school teacher, Otto perfects a game called "have dad lift me over passing waves, as they break." I'm pretty sure the main goal of the game was to see whose arms came out of their sockets first.

 The Tunnel of Trees. Probably doesn't look like much in this picture, and I'm not sure why I like it so much... but I do! It's a tunnel. Of trees.
Scoping out Keiki Cove. This is literally the entire beach.

While it was a pleasant distraction, we decided -after a short time- to head on to our next destination: Spouting Horn. Spouting Horn, as I may have described when we visited it three years ago, is a blow hole where ocean waves are pumped through it tube and erupt skyward like a geyser. Though it's a little hit or miss, when it does go off, it's pretty amazing, and -as an added bonus- we spotted several sea turtles braving the crashing waves.

Stella watching the Spouting Hole, her hair seemingly blown back by the force of the aquatic eruption.

Next up was Puka Dogs for lunch, which Sarah described in detail in her entry. So, I won't say more, except to suggest that -if you buy one- make sure to get the "hot" or "lava" sauce, "spicy" was too mild.

Puka Doggin' it!

Then it was on to Poipu Beach Park. Poipu Beach Park is actually two coves, separated from each other by sand spit. The Western cove was closed, owing to high seas and an endangered Hawaiian monk sea; but the Eastern cove was open and provided a great place for the kids to frolic... though my own personal frolicking was hindered by my lobster pink back, a salt water rash on my hips and the fact that I felt obligated to wear a shirt to protect said sunburn (which, in turn, weird wounded my pride)... really, my Northern genes suffer in the tropic sometimes. Imagine an under-fed Viking, red-faced in a kiddie pool. Wearing a T-shirt. Yup, me.

Panorama of Poipu Beach. Look for the grumbling, T-shirt-wearing pile of sunburn, squatting in the middle of the cove.

Anyhow, as the kids rounded the corner from "having fun" to "over-tired," we decided it was time to head back home. But, not without a stop at our favorite Shaved Ice stand in Kapa'a!

I got a "Blapple!" Blackberry apple! The kids prefer and mango, and Sarah skews coconut.

Back home, Sarah swam with the kids in the pool, while I grilled up some steak and onions on the community grill.

Random picture of our condo. Since I wasn't sure where else to put it. We are on the top floor.

The next day was Friday, and we knew we had the big Luau scheduled for that evening, so we decided to stay close to home. Luckily, overnight, the weather report had gone from "thunderstorms" to "sunny," so we decided to try Hideaways Beach, just a short drive from our place in Princeville. To get to Hideaways, you park your car in the smallest parking lot ever (if you can get a spot), follow a muddy path between some tennis courts and a private resort, take in a stunning Cliffside view, and then fall of the cliffs to the beach... several hundred feet below. Well, not exactly. The view is stunning, but to actually get down to the beach, you clamber down a narrow, muddy set of steps and root-balls, grasping futilely at rusted railing and a jury-rigged network for ropes, before emerging on a small stretch of golden sand.

 Beginning our descent. It was hard to get a photo that conveyed the steepness of the "stairs."
...but our reward: An amazing patch of sand, with perfect, blue waters.

The waves were still on the rough side, and I think that Sarah and I were initially concerned that the kids would feel overwhelmed by them. But, after a short period of hand-holding, it was pretty amazing how quickly they got into the swing of thing, either letting Sarah and I take them out to bob with us in the swells, or happily letting the waves crash against and over them on the shore. It was easily one of the best beach experiences we had, and we were sad when we had to make our way back to the condo for lunch.

Luckily for us though, no sooner had we pulled out of the parking lot, that the skies opened up and dumped sheets of rain down on the roof of the (sexy, sexy) min-van. Initially, our plan had been to eat quickly and then take the kids down to the pool for a bit. But, the rain kept coming, along with some distant rumbled of thunder, so -instead- most of the afternoon was spent with the kids resting in front of the iPad ("resting" sounds much more forgiving than "zoning out"), while Sarah and I enjoyed an afternoon beer and some book reading on the Lanai.

Before it was time for the Luau to start, we did manage to squeeze in a quick pool session, but then we were rushing off to brave the oddly dense traffic of Kapa'a to go the Smith's Tropical Paradise. Sarah, a half-year-old Stella and I actually did a Luau during our trip to Oahu, years ago, but since the kids were older now, we figured it was time to go again, so they could experience the spectacle of the whole thing.

The lush and kitschy entrance to Smith's Tropical Paradise. How could you not want to walk through that gate?

To be honest, beyond a few fun touches and a nice sunset, I hadn't been overly impressed with the Luau on Oahu. It was, overall, a sort of crowded, long-in-the-tooth affair, where it felt like most of the people (and the food) were just going through the motions. Happily the Luau at Smith's was better in nearly every way (though we missed the sunset, which was replaced by dark clouds and ominous rolls of thunder). The Luau itself was held on a well manicure garden, filled with regional plants and a surprising number of peacocks. The food, while not exactly amazing, we decent enough. And the show, had the right mix of kitsch (oh, the lounge-music odes to Hawaii!) and spectacle (Otto, leaning over to me while the Samoan fire dancer did his thing: "Daddy, that's dangerous!"). Honestly, the broad cultural stereotypes on display at times fell into that awkward level of cultural tourism that leaves you thinking "Is this racist? It might be racist." But, it's hard not to enjoy the costumes, dancing and, well, spinning flames.

 Stella, with one of the abnormally large number of peacocks.
Taking pictures of the actual performance proved fruitless, so here we are about to enjoy it!

The kids enjoyed it, and promptly crashed on the drive home.

Today, our penultimate day, we -again- decided to keep things closer to home. We know that tomorrow will be filled with driving, flying and queue-waiting (we leave our unit at 9am, but won't be home until, like 11pm), so we didn't want to overly tax the kids.

First up was the Hanalei Family Market, which Sarah talked about a bit. The market was fun, but one thing that struck me a bit was just being in Hanalei itself. During our last visit the town center of Hanalei was our main stomping grounds but -during this trip- aside from one or two detours, we hadn't spent much time there. Walking from the market to the nearby Big Save, to get some money, I was struck by the weird sense of deja vu that comes from visiting a place you've been to before. Its not often that Sarah and I return to the same area on a vacation, so it's always neat experiencing a place for a second time.

Enjoying Balinese food and coconut water at the Farmers Market.

After the market, we headed back to Hideaway Beach. At the risk of tainting our previous days memories, we had all decided we'd enjoyed it so much that it was worth revisiting. Unfortunately, while it was a fun time -with Stella and I playing in the waves, while Sarah and Otto built sand forts- ominous clouds hung to the south of us, and a cool breeze was in from across the ocean, making it feel slightly less idyllic. So, when Stella's blue, quivering lips became noticeable, we decided to call it and head home. Again, though, our timing was perfect, and we crested the bluff and made our way back to the car as the first raindrops fell.

Stella, revisiting the precarious descent to Hideaway Beach.

The afternoon was, again, largely dominated by rain, books and the kids watching Peg + Cat on the iPad. But, as the skies cleared, we made our way out to the pool again. The pool was notably more crowded today, and it was interesting watching the dynamics between our kids and the other kids. As we've previously mentioned, most of the other kids we've come across on this trip have been able to swim and, while Otto is happy to putter around in the lifejacket, you can tell that Stella is taking note of other girls here age and younger, who are swimming around her. But, to Stella's credit, instead of letting her inability get her down, she's risen to the occasion and -combined with Sarah's instructions- it's amazing how far she's come in this one week. While she still can't swimming, per se, today featured her "gliding," jumping on the edge of the pool by herself and letting me "toss" her through the air. For a little girl who would barely let the water touch her face just a couple days ago, it's impressive. And, hopefully, Sarah and I will be able to make sure she cares what she's learned forward.

This photo is actually from the previous day, but figured Stella deserved her own photo here, for all her hard work this week.

Dinner tonight was Hawaiian food and L&L BBQ in Hanalei. Effectively Hawaiian fast food, but with a wide enough variety that everyone could find something they liked. I, for my part, tried a saimin burger, which was a beef patty effectively sandwiched between to "patties" of deep-fried ramen-style noodles. Healthy. After that, disappointingly, we had to "settle" for ice-cream shakes, since all the shaved ices stands were closed between of the rainstorms earlier today.

 Fried noodles. As a bun. Cope.
One last photo of Sarah and the kids, because I love them. Another wonderful journey, almost complete!

Anyhow, we are now back at the condo. Everyone else is asleep, most of the bags are packed and we'll be headed out early tomorrow. As we mentioned before, this entire trip came about on a lark and, in a way, that was nice. Having been here before freed us of a lot of the pressure to "go, go, go," "do, do, do" and "see, see, see" and -instead- allowed us the luxury of actually just enjoying our time. I don't see Sarah and I ever becoming the types of travelers who just go back to the same place year after year but, this time, it was nice.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Last Vacation Day Musings: Kauai 2015

It's already Saturday.  Our vacation ends tomorrow.  It's always hard not to wish for just a little bit more time, but I feel pretty satisfied with our trip overall.  As time went on, we developed a good rhythm--get up and have a leisurely time having breakfast and relaxing.  Head for a beach--whatever sounded good and seemed like we'd have luck actually getting into the water (see previous entry for why this was a prerequisite!).  Have a picnic lunch or come home to eat and have a break, often just in time to wait out some afternoon rain.  Head to the pool for mini-lessons and play time.  Head to Foodland, make a dinner out of leftovers, or consider going out for dinner.  Read books.  Crash.
On our first jaunt out to Ke'e Beach, a little girl came up and started playing with Stella as did her twin sister.  I talked a little with their parents (who were from Edmonds, small world) and they said this was their first family vacation--that they had decided they just wouldn't travel with their kids until they were five.
As anyone who knows me would know, this is clearly not the route Tyler and I took.  We've travelled to Mexico with Stella, and Kauai, Iceland, Ireland, and France with both the kids, not to mention more regular trips to Texas and Illinois for family visits.  But on this trip I could acknowledge that travelling with the kids now is a totally different experience.  We're not driven by nap schedules.  We can go for a pretty long day without having major meltdowns.  We can often all enjoy the same thing at the same time!  While I'll be the first to admit all those earlier trips were for Tyler and I and not for the kids, it does make things easier and more fun when we are all excited about the plans at hand.
So rather than catch up on the last few days (which I hope Tyler will, in his inimitably wonderful way, before all is said and done), I thought I'd share a few thoughts on more general themes.
The Kids:
We've gotten out of the habit of more regular blogging (case in point:  my last entry was Otto's *third* birthday--yikes!), but it's a good chance to take stock of where they are right now.
Stella, Hawaiian cutie
Oh, Stella.  It's so wonderful to see what a great person she is becoming!  She's resilient, able to handle change, disappointment and food she doesn't like with aplomb and good manners.  (To Otto:  "When you don't like something on your plate, just set it aside and don't eat it.  At the end of the meal you can say, "that's not my favorite" so Mommy knows.")  When we started this trip, we worried a little that her sense of caution might mean she'd miss out on some fun.  She didn't really want to go to the beach and, at first, was extremely tenuous about getting into the water.  Otto, on the other, had too little caution, but more on that soon.  By the second and third days, though, she was increasing in confidence and could hardly be taken away from the surf.  She likes to explain things, even when her "explanations" are stretched a little thin--at last night's luau she was quite worried about how the dancers got from one part of the stage to another so quickly and worked something out in her head that helped her resolve it.  And we usually know what's going on in her head because she is a serious external processor--I hear rumors that Tyler's parents used to tell him that he wouldn't stop breathing if he stopped talking, and Stella has more than a little of that instinct in her.  She's also initially shy around new kids--when other kids approach her on the beach, she'll tend to be stand-off-ish unless they are particularly persistent.  For example, before she played with the twins on the beach, I think the girl had to approach Stella about four times before Stella really actually got engaged with her.  And then she quickly takes charge and starts telling everyone else what to do.....
Exuberantly entering the water for the last beach visit of this trip
"Otto, how's the beach?"  "Awesome!"
Within a week of both Stella and Otto's fourth birthdays, I've found myself thinking, "Wow--what an interesting person [insert correct child's name] is!  I really love them!"  There's something around four I just love.  I think it's the clarity of personality that starts to more clearly emerge when they start spending less time trying to assert their independence.  Otto is a ham--he likes making people laugh and is social--he's always keeping tabs on what everyone in his class is up to.  We get regular reports about the goings-ons of the preschool set, often who is hitting who and who starts hitting under what circumstances.  He's also incredibly affectionate and still can't get enough of me or my attention.  He's also somewhat inexplicably decided to spend a lot of time talking in Ewokese, despite the fact that we tell him he'd be more effective in English.  Yertl, which is technically an insult, seems to be the word of choice right now, and it means whatever he wants it to in that moment.  He also keeps track of things and likes order.  If we say that in three days we'll have breakfast, then go to the pool, then go to the beach, he will notice if we decide instead to go to the beach first.  And, as you would probably gather from his sharings about his friends at school, he's very observant and often wants to know why things are the way they are or how they came to be that way.  We joke that he inherited a lot of my family's engineering genes, though he's also loving art these days, too.  When we first got here, he seemed pretty intent on just throwing himself into the water, seemingly confident that he could figure out the whole swimming thing in a pinch.  Fortunately for us, without any major incident, he seems to have evened out a bit in his confidence.  He's more happy to stay at the shoreline and loves paddling around in the life jacket in the pool, so we're far less worried about needing to dive in and save him than we were at the start of this trip.
Otto and his sand castle--he spent the last day on the beach playing in the sand, building castles and pirate ships which then attacked the castle

Stella AND Otto
It's fascinating to see the two of them together (at least for Tyler and I).  We're often joking that it's good as eldest children to have two children and come to grips with what a jerk older siblings are to their younger kin.  Of course, there's a lot of sweetness, too, but man, there's a lot of bossing around.  (And, I know, I know--girls aren't supposed to be called bossy anymore, but as a strong woman leader and feminist, I'm not afraid to call it as I see it.)  But when we aren't yelling at Stella to give Otto a break, she is often initiating games that Otto is happy to play along in.  And I've had pleasant flashbacks to being young and playing with my brother as I overhear them in the backseat as we've gone on some of our longer drives.  (Their games have a bit of a sophisticated bent--one was about a siphonphore which we thought Stella had made up until I remembered hearing it when they watched the Octonauts one day....)  We're pretty fortunate that they are good playmates for each other--most of the time--which is another reason I think this trip is going smoothly for all of us.  Neither is bored, and we don't feel stuck with being entertainers all the time.
Sibling love--or competition (I think this was when we had asked Stella for a picture by the white flower in her white dress, and Otto wanted in on the picture action
Stella and Otto assessing the newest beach before we all head in
If you do much research on food and restaurants in Kauai, you'll largely come away with the impression that there's not a lot to write home about and that you'll pay a lot for it regardless.  I can't argue with that entirely, though I feel like I've had better and more interesting food this go around than the last time.  Here are some favorites:
  • Saimin at Hamura's in Lihue--this was our first stop on arrival because we needed a substantial lunch, and I remembered having saimin last time.  It felt like a classically Kauaian place--a hole in the wall, low tables with little stools, a tiny Asian woman filling orders where you sort of feel like you should be a regular and know what's what.  I think Tyler wrote about it, but we ended up being befriended by some nice local women who showed us how to garnish our food and gave suggestions for how to save money while on vacation (largely shop on the south/east side).
  • Balinese food at the Hanelei Farmer's Market--last year our friend Yachi and I went here while the dad's were off on their Napali Coast tour and I had fondly remembered getting some good Indonesian food.  The same woman was still there who was still tolerant of my attempts to speak the few words of Bahasa I still remember to her:  Me:  "Selamat pagi!" (Good morning!)  Her:  "Selamat pagi!  Apa kabar?"  (How are you?)  Me:  "Oh, shoot.  I forget how to answer how are you...."
  • Kilauea Fish Market in Kapa'a:  we ate here twice, with food that I think was the most delicious.  The first time I had an ahi wrap because I had read good reviews, and it was amazing.  The ahi was fresh and smoky, and it was filled with rice, cabbage, carrots and a creamy soy dressing.  I would go again tonight, if only Tyler got more excited about seafood.  The second time I had fish tacos, one fried, one grilled--also delicious, but not quite as good as the wrap.  Stella also loved her tofu and panko chicken on the two trips.  And price-wise it definitely felt like great quality for a good price.
  • Puka dog:  I had wanted to try Puka Dog as I knew it was a Hawaiian chain and figured the price would be right, and they were rumored to have excellent lemonade.  We went the day we were in Poipu, and it was fine.  Not amazing, but more than adequate.  The conceit is that there are "island" relishes and the bun is more like a hoagie that they toast a hotdog-sized hole in the middle.  The lemonade was excellent.
  • The fruit!  I know I already talked about the Kapa'a farmer's market, but it's going to be hard to go home and not have ready access to perfectly ripe, perfectly perfect tropical fruit.   It's just never the same--while we can have access to papayas and pineapples and even rambutan and longan nowadays, the toll of shipping (and probably shipping when green) show up in the taste and texture we can get in Seattle.  I will miss papaya for breakfast every day.
  • And then there are just the random delicacies that aren't typical at home:  butter mocha, spicy tuna poke, Japanese bread (which I had once in Los Altos but hadn't seen previously--like white bread but with some rice flour so the texture is a little different), shave ice....  I'm sure I'm forgetting a few other things!
We've also eaten at home at least twice a day, which makes the trip a little more reasonable (and all the more reason when we do eat out that we hope it's really good!)
It's funny--in some ways, Kauai shouldn't have such as hold on us.  I am by nature better off in more Northern climes.  In heat and humidity, I get lethargic and cranky.  I like beaches, but I can get put off by the wind and exposure.  And I would say besides my love for the mountains and hiking, I'd call myself more of a city girl every day.  Kauai is the Garden Island, for goodness sakes!  It's pretty rural throughout.   But there's something of the lush greenness that always makes Tyler and I imagine living here.  It's a little bit shabby--it is, of course, a small island in the middle of a vast sea, left to the elements.  And there are so many churches!  I'm fairly convinced that every islander here must be members of at least two to keep them all going.  And I grew more in my interest for the whole island--I knew last time I liked the north shore, but there are a lot of interesting things happening on the East coast in Kapa'a--amazing fresh juices, the shave ice, maybe it's the Olympia to Hanelei's better-known cool like Seattle.  Or maybe I've just changed, and a more work-a-day town is more my speed.  Who knows.  In another few years when we're back again, I'll just have to re-assess!

Hideaways--our favorite beach this year.  A short, steep hike down for a small, shaded beach with great mild-enough waves to enjoy the surf--Napali coast on the far left, and just five minutes from our condo

Happy family in Kauai

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Spectacles and Quotidian: Kauai Days 3 and 4

So here is a little secret about our trip:  we bought the tickets on a lark in January (I think Tyler mentioned we had companion fares about to expire).  We've been crazy busy all summer.  We've done no planning.  Which means every day we just get to decide what we want to do and just do it.

After spending the first day with some pool time and the second day at my favorite Kauai beach, we thought it might be a good point in the trip to try and see Waimea Canyon.  We went on our first visit, but the kids were too young to remember, and the weather was not really cooperating.  We didn't see Waimea Canyon at all last time--it was a wall of fog.  This time, fortunately, was a little different:

It's always hard to fully convey the scope and majesty of landscapes like this in photos, but it was magnificent. 

The happy family, and Otto continuing with his tradition of not cooperating....  (PS  look back at the left of us--notice the faint hint of a waterfall?)


A little further up the road we got a better view of the same waterfall!

Kids and no zoom for perspective
Past the Waimea Canyon viewpoint, you can get some views of Kalalau Canyon.  Now, when we go to Ke'e Beach, we're at the start of the Kalalau Trail, which is an 11 mile hike to the beach at the base of this valley.  It's pretty amazing to see it from this upper view--and someday the kids will be old enough to do the hike with us!

View of the valley--the clouds would waft in and out but never stay for long.  For a sense of scale, you have to imagine that helicopters were flying through and looked like small birds.  And the colors were spectacular--vibrants blues and greens.
Beyond the overlook, there are a few trails.  We wandered a small way down the red dirt path before heading home (and for more Wailua Shave Ice...).

Valley to the left, jungle forest to the right, red trail ahead.

Otto pleased to be running around on the trail

Another rare family photo--the same nice Australian woman who took our picture at Waimea Canyon had another go at this look out!

More shave ice happiness--I swear this is the best I've ever had--served in porcelain bowls (instead of plastic) with real fruit and flavors that taste like the real thing.  I have to finagle another reason to drive through Kapa'a....

The next morning followed what's become the pretty typical routine.  The kids get up and play together, pretty happily, while Tyler and I putter around, have some breakfast, drink coffee and read on the lanai.

Now the kids are pretty obsessed with swimming in the pool.  While they liked Ke'e, they LOVE the pool.  Stella is into getting "mini-lessons" from me and is making real progress in the water.  She is really going underwater and starting to glide.  And Otto loves to kick around in the lifejacket (which is better than wearing his hands raw like he did the first day).  So every day we have to argue a little over beach versus pool.  And Otto, always good at remembering things we agreed upon, remembered this was a "beach" day.  And Tyler had seen that this was supposed to be the best weather day of our trip, so it was a no-brainer. 

I decided we should hit a couple of the beaches we thought the kids were too young for last time.  Both require hikes and good weather to be swimmable.  First stop, Queen's Baths.  Queen's Baths are really close to where we are staying in Princeville, are a 10 minute hike and are some lava pools that get filled by waves but are like mini-swimming pools.  We all win, right?

Halfway down at a waterfall.  It was a bit muddy and slick--and definitely humid--but not too bad.

Hmmm.  Well, it's not like we haven't done other hikes with dire warnings....
Bouldering to the baths

Well, no "queen's bath" for us today....

A panorama I took on the way out--the Napali Coast on the far left.  Worth blowing up for the view.  Spectactular.  And awe-inspiring to see the force of the ocean.


Well, that knocked planned beach #2 off the list.  Another hike down on the same coast, it seemed unlikely that it would be swimmable given what we saw here.
No big deal--we'd go back to Ke'e.  I always regretted that we had only been able to go there once on our last trip.  We knew the reef broke the waves, the kids like it, it would be an easy good time.  Right?
So we weren't the only ones with that idea.  As we drove past many parked cars far out, Tyler agreed to drop us off, park the car and walk back.  The kids and I set up on the beach, ate lunch, re-applied sunscreen and got ready to get in the water.  Tyler was awhile coming--the car ended up being about half-mile away.  And right as he settled in, we heard the lifeguard say something to the family in front of us about Portuguese Man-o-Wars.  A few moments later, they make an announcement.  We walk down to the water, and the shore is littered with them--tiny, jellyfish like creatures that won't kill you but sting like a bee sting.  They are small and all over the water's edge.  Well, scrap that plan.
It seems there's always one day on a trip when things don't go quite according to plan.  Well, easy solution--more shave ice and pool time!

After swimming (and more impressive strides by Stella in the swimming department) we decided we could make it to Kapa'a in time for the weekly farmer's market (one of my all-time favorite things to do while in new places), so we hopped in the car again.

We haven't managed to get a shot at the pool, but clearly two hours of swimming time tuckered everybody out!

I'd gone to the Hanelei Farmer's Market last trip and they had produce but also crafts and cooked food.  This was a more traditional produce-filled market, but we got some fun things, like native mangosteens, a kaffir lime and calamansi limes to go with our papaya.  Tomorrow's breakfast is going to be delicious!  We didn't get more shave ice (that might be too much, even for us) but we did make a stop to the Kauai Juice Co. where we stocked up on some amazing cold-pressed juices and hot sauces.

Our haul:  cherimoya;  native mangosteens; starfruit;  calamansi and kaffir lime;  apple bananas;  papayas;  mango;  avocados.  We've also had a few longan and rambutan, as well as two perfectly ripe pineapples....

So even an off day in Kauai isn't half bad.  It was more driving than we were aiming to do and no saltwater time, like I had hoped.  But the kids' time napping in the car gave Tyler and I a moment to reflect on how much fun we are having travelling as a family now that the kids are older.  We had actually hoped to talk some friends into coming with us this go-round, too, but now that the kids are more mobile and excited, we're having a lot of fun, just the four of us.  So far I've gotten to eat lots of great food, read two books, and only respond to two text messages from work (I'm actually completely offline for work email!).  While I can already sense that the time is going to pass too quickly, it's been relaxing and such a treat to have this time together. 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Life Aquatic

As I type this, three hurricane's are barreling across the Pacific, setting a historic record. The second of them, Ignacio, performed a near miss with Hawai'i's Big Island, so of course it's a perfect time to Kauai, right?

In actuality, our decision to return to the Garden Island had less to do with historic weather phenomenon, and more to do with the realization -several months ago- that some Alaska Airlines Companion Tickets were about to expire; and from our wonderful memories of our trip to Kauai three years ago.

Our departure, yesterday, was smooth, and -in an unexpected twist- two of our tickets were upgraded to First Class. Unfortunately, though, only two. (Woe is us, right?) Sarah suggested that Stella and I take the tickets, since she had recently gotten to ride First Class on a work trip, and -despite a perfunctory attempt at chivalry- I agreed. So, while Sarah and Otto crammed into Coach with the other commoners, Stella and I spread out in our luxurious seats, enjoying meals served with actual, metal utensils, mango French toast, salmon cakes, fruit platters, complimentary Mai Tai's and tropical mimosas... and that was just Stella's share.

Pretty rough, being a First Grader in First Class.

Arriving relaxed and refreshed in Kauai (well, at least Stella and I), we were immediately attacked by the humidity. Seattle and Washington state have had one of their hottest Summers on record, with wildfires engulfing large swaths of Eastern Washington, but still, it's a rare thing for heat and humidity to mix in the Pacific Northwest. So, whenever I walk in to that wall of moisture and sweat, there is something in me that immediately declares "exotic vacation!"

Collecting our luggage and braving the queues of Alamo car rental (which, as near as I can tell, had every tourist in Kauai waiting for their car), we set off in our (sexy, sexy) mini-van. First up: Lunch at Hamura Saimin! We'd first experienced Saimin -basically a fancy top ramen, with egg and a variety of meats piled on top- on our last trip to Kauai, and Sarah and read about this place -a local favorite- on Yelp. With it's unique rows of booths and somnambulistic wait staff, Hamura definitely had characters, and -as a half dozen local women sat down at our table with us- we realized it was also filled with characters. The woman, amazingly friendly and quick with the in-joke, were more than happy to teach me how to properly mix the chili water, mustard and soy sauce to make the perfect dipping sauce, while rattling of a laundry list of their other favorite restaurants, shaved ice stands and hints on how to get cheap groceries on the North Shore (trick: you buy them on the South Shore). With our stomachs of tasty noodles, we were back in the (sexy, sexy) mini-van and on the road North.

Not feeling the usual urge to race to our rental unit, we stopped next at Kapaa for shaved ice. The Hawaiian specialty, shaved ice, is something that Sarah and I both equate more with our trip to Oahu, years ago, but Wailua Shave Ice might change that. While previous shaved ices were content to be candy colored ice, served in a plastic cone, Wailua's shaved ice was a heading pile of flavored, topped with a mix of fruit puree, chopped fruit and served in a porcelain cup.

Shaved ice!

Then, it was on the road, again. While Sarah and I gravitate to new locations and destinations, it is fun when we get to revised places we've been before; and the drive to Princeville, outside of Hanalai, where our condo was located, was filled with memories: "Oh, that's where we stopped to change Otto's diaper." "I think it was up there that Justin, Gautam and I took the kids and had that great breakfast served by some random hippy commune." "Where was that great BBQ place?"

The condo we are renting, while not as palatial as our house from our last visit, still seems great, with a giant, wrap-around lanai, open layout and plenty of bedrooms and bath rooms for the four of us. Plus, it has access to a pool.

It's with a small degree of embarrassment that we've realized that Stella should be able to swim by now. Sarah actually spent a number of years working as both a lifeguard and a swim instructor, so it seems extra incongruous that we've managed to go this long without getting her into regular lessons. (To be fair, several years ago, Sarah signed her up for some beginners lessons, but she wasn't ready for it, and since then we've sort of just dropped the ball.) Still, with a week ahead of us, we decided to do what little we could to at least get her more accustom to the basics of being in the water.

So, we spent our first afternoon, with the kids taking turns with our one child-sized life jacket, while the other took impromptu swim lessons from Sarah. Then, toward the end, Otto became obsessed with climbing around the perimeter of the pool, while hanging from the edges of it. This seemed harmless enough until, as we walked back from the pool, he revealed his hands were now littered with blisters. Yow.

One day in Kauai has translated to 4 Band Aids. This is not going to end well.

At this point, general fatigue also started to catch up with the children and -despite a fairly successful grocery shopping trip to Princeville's sticker-shock Food Land, there was a good deal of crying until Otto eventually crashed on the couch and then both Sarah and Stella crashed a short while later in bed.

The living room... with a crashed out Otto-bot.

That night (well, last night) was a strange and fitful affair. The North Shore of Kauai is one of the wettest places on Earth, and that was on full display with what could only be called intermittent typhoons. Combine that with the wind whipping through the condo's open layout and randomly slamming doors and a little boy waking up confused and wondering were his PJs were... and I don't think that either Sarah or I got what could be called a restful nights sleep. But, unlike our typical day, there was neither an alarm clock, nor a needy child to wake us up... so we both awoke ready for our first full day in Kauai.

Kauai decided to greet us with more rain. While the sun kept shyly revealing itself, it would just as quickly be replaced by an epic downpour. Still, Sarah and I were both content with this situation and hunkered down on the balmy lanai with our cups of Kona coffee and new books. The kids for their part, after a day of traveling seemed content to chase each other around the condo and draw pictures on coffee filters.

The view, whenever the rain let up, at least. You can see why Sarah and I might be happy just sitting on the deck.

Still eventually, we felt like it was time to explore the island a bit. So, it was off to Ke'e Beach! The kids were dragging their feet ("beaches are boring, we want to go to the pool") and it was still downpouring, but both Sarah and I had loved Ke'e Beach on our first trip (though I could never quite remember it's name), and it seemed like as good a destination as any.

During the long and winding trip to the end of the road, crossing the one-way bridges and passing beach after semi-hidden beach, the rain continued to dump on us. The whole time the kids continued to ask: "What will we do if we get there and it's raining?" To which we'd respond: "We'll find something else to do." ...But, I'm not sure we really had a plan B.

Luckily, we didn't end up needing one. As we pulled up to the Ke'e Beach parking lot, the sun finally made it's first real appearance of the day. And, as an added bonus, the morning's precipitation had chased of most of the crowds, leaving the beach with a fraction of the numbers we remembered.

And, Y'know what? The kids realized that beaches weren't boring. In fact, between their sand, and waves and water, they are actually sort of fun. They are even more fun when they meet twin 5-year-old girls from Edmunds who are willing to build epic sea-walls with them.

Testing out the water. 

 Ke'e Beach. As you can tell by this picture, it's a real dive. I mean, who would want to spend their day here?
I hiked up the beach a bit, and took a picture back down the way I came. You can see Ke'e Beach, and then the Na Pali Coast disappearing into the mist and rain behind it. Na Pali is only accessible by boat or along the 11 mile trail that runs down the coast. Someday, Sarah and I would love to try it, but maybe not with a daredevil preschooler in tow.

(At this point, it probably bears mentioning that Sarah and I have noticed something with the kids, when it comes to water: Stella is overly cautious and Otto has no sense of self-preservation. While it took a lot of coaxing just to get Stella to go into the water passed her knees; Otto, meanwhile, continued to charge headlong into the water, seemingly presuming that he'd figure out the swimming thing later. As needed. Sarah and I agree that we sort of wish we could split the difference when it came to their collective aquatic courage.)

Anyhow, despite one or two passing showers, the middle of the day passed amazingly. Pretty much perfectly. Beautiful scenery. Perfect ocean water temperatures. Pristine beach. Entertaining wild chickens. Sun. Forgotten sun screen.

...oh, wait. What was that last part?

Well, this morning, as we prepared to head out, a conversation occurred that went something like this:

"OK, the kids have sun screen on them."
"Great, Tyler. Did you put some on yourself?"
"On my arms and legs. I'll put some on my torso when we get there."
"You should really do your chest and back now. It'll be easier."

At this point, I decided to heed Sarah's advice, and properly covered my chest with sunscreen. Then, I intended to ask Sarah to get my back for me. But, she was busy. Then I was busy. And then the thought went completely out of my mind. And then, later, I convinced myself that she had put sun screen on my back, and I'd just forgotten.

And now my back it really sun burnt.

Attempt to show off my sun burn, or just give you all a sexy, topless selfie? You make the call!

And so now, while everyone else is asleep, and the rain falls again our rooftop, I sit here, enjoying the cool breeze, trying to figure out how to squeeze our dinner at Chicken in a Barrel into the final paragraph of this blog entry, while waiting for the air to cool enough to finally venture to bed myself.

More aloe!

Chicken in a Barrel!! So good!