Mahalo, Kaua’i

Vacation is a magical word, conjuring images of palm trees, sunlight, and precision relaxation. I’ve just returned from a week in Kaua’i, the Garden Isle of Hawai’i. It was everything ‘vacation’ conjures.

Mr. Aniko and I slept when we were tired, ate when we were hungry, explored the island on foot and in our rented Ford Fusion. We spent a day in a covered cabana by the sea, alternating reading with looking out at the expanse of blue, blue Pacific. Most days, we took sight-seeing drives; there are no interstates, which I suppose is obvious, and there were few short stretches where the speed limit was a whopping fifty (mph). To put that in perspective, some of the roads I drive on daily in Austin have a speed limit of eighty! At first trying to go twenty-five in areas that looked like Texas-sixties was laughable, and it was very easy to creep up to forty and still believe you were crawling. Sometime in the second day, it clicked: you don’t need to go as fast when the distance is so short, and when the landscape is inexpressibly beautiful. There were many times we remarked that the most noticeable thing about Kaua’i was the intense unreality of it. The lush greenery, winds scented with plumeria and hibiscus, the perfect temperature that never demanded more than a light sweater, the sudden rains followed by brilliant rainbows: none of it seemed like part of our world. Star Trekkies, Kaua’i has got to be the genesis of Risa, the holiday destination in the stars. It is that perfect.

This is what vacation looks like.

I wasn’t expecting the wind. We get wind here in Austin, strong gusts that precede a distinct change in weather. In Kaua’i the wind was constant. It soughed through the palm trees outside, and fearless little tropical birds perched on the spines of palm branches. One little red-capped bird hopped onto our lanai, or balcony, and sang to Mr. Aniko. It was enchanting.

I’d read that it rains in Kaua’i almost daily, and I packed an umbrella. The umbrella was not equal to the winds, but it was better than nothing. The downpours tended to spring up without warning, and at dawn there was a curtain of rain that blew off of the sloped roofs in sheets of water. On the day we drove out to see the Waimea Canyon, the rains didn’t relent. We trekked up to one of the rainiest spots on the planet, in a downfall, smiling and laughing the whole time. Out on Po’ipu Beach, the afternoon showers would come in and feel so very chilly. You could tell the newcomers, who would scatter at the first drops, but everyone quickly learned that if you cover up with the orange-striped beach towel, you’ll stay comfortable and keep your book dry, too. The afternoon rains passed in a matter of minutes, and then the sun returned, baking us back to warmth as we enjoyed vibrant rainbows arcing through newly unperturbed sky.


Traveling, to me, is as much about experiencing cuisine as it is about sightseeing or relaxing. I drank coconut water from a coconut hacked open by a man with a machete. I ate a Hawaiian hot dog  which is entirely encased in the bun and seasoned with spicy mustard and fruit spreads. We shopped at Big Save and Sueoka’s grocery stories, picking up Hawaiian sweet rolls (in Hawai’i!!), sandwich meat, and breakfast provisions. We alternated granola breakfasts on our lanai, with scrambles at the earliest-opening breakfast joint near our hotel. The waitress there never remembered us, and often didn’t bring me what I ordered, but the kim chee scramble was really tasty, and came with rice instead of hash browns. Our most excellent meal was at Pizzetta, in Old Koloa Town. I got decadent white truffle-infused meatballs and pasta.  Prices in Kaua’i are out of this world expensive, with $12 scrambled eggs(!) and $35+ entrees at the nicer restaurants. Overall, the food in Kaua’i was better than what we had when we vacationed in Maine a few years back, but nowhere near as good as almost any restaurant here in Austin. However, Kaua’i had more wild chickens and crowing roosters than either Maine or Austin, and the charm and the breezes and the perfect temperatures more than offset the lackluster fare available for (somewhat) reasonable cost.

Would I hop on the next grueling flight back to the Garden Isle? Two days ago, I would have said yes. I’ll admit to crying when it was time to leave; being carefree, comfortable, and without stress is addictive. It is chilly in Austin now, still getting into the thirties (F) at night, and the traffic screams by on roads so fast there is no option of driving with the windows down and still enjoying a conversation. The predominant colors here are brown and gray, an ugly contrast to the greens, purples, yellows, and reds of Kaua’i. Even the airports on the mainland are less lovely, all enclosed and full of recycled air instead of open and allowing in tropical breezes like Kauai’s Lihue airport. Like I said, two days ago I would have said yes.

I'm holding a baby coconut!

Today, I’m not so sure. Some really overdue yard work reminded me that there is gratification in doing that can’t be born of lazing around. It is also nice to cook again; right now, I’m preparing Tuscan beans flavored with sage and garlic. That we can do our weekly grocery shopping for healthy foods  for just over what one day of eating cost us in Kaua’i is a definite plus. My dogs are happy to see me, and the little Yorkie is sitting in my lap as I write this, both of us snuggling together against the brisk and chilly breezes howling down the chimney. The most important thing about being home is the return of my sense of volition. When I am perfectly comfortable, as I was in Kaua’i, I have no impetus to create. Writing seemed like a silly thing to bother with when I could lay on a beach and let the island sing to me. Work? Ha! That seemed like a ridiculous thing to even consider when the wind shifted palm tree shadows across the lanai. Yet writing, tending my house, and going to work help me understand who I am. If I were to stay in Kaua’i, I’m not sure I’d be the person who could write novels. I’m not sure I’d still be me, and I don’t want to be someone else.

And isn’t that the real magic of vacation? To leave enabled me to return to daily life, glad to be home, and happy to be myself. Life may not always be paradise, but I need the discomfort of too fast cars, too busy days, and disconsolate brown landscape to spur me to creativity.

Mahalo,  Kaua’i, for reminding me of who I am.


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