Thursday, December 4, 2008

Pie in the pan, cold chili in the can.

I started to write this one on the back of my e-ticket reservation print-out while sitting on a beach in Kauai. Roughly three sentences in my efforts came to an abrupt halt when two of the more permanent residents of the beach campground began chasing each other, loudly demonstrating the ways in which a four letter word, beginning in “F”, can be used to express extreme dislike. These are the sort of memorable experiences that are completely lost when one stays at fancy resorts with private beaches, gourmet restaurants, and bed sheets. Never fear, we had a trip full of memorable experiences…. But perhaps I should start at the beginning.
My housemate, Joe (the same one of GI Joe infamy), and I went to Kauai over the thanksgiving holiday. Our attempts to find additional traveling buddies were met with the same excuse from all fronts: “Kauai costs money. I have no money.” You don’t get paid all that much to go play in Hawaiian forests and lava fields all day and thus all park interns are perennially broke. In the end it was just Joe and me, and we planned only as far as the plane tickets and rental car.
By 1pm on Thursday Joe and I had exhausted our plans, having both made it to Kauai and picked up our funny looking, bright red, rental car (a “Caliber”, what were the designers thinking?). Now winging it, we decided it might be a good idea to get some camping permits. Our attempt at being law abiding campers was thwarted when we arrived at the office and discovered that they were observing that federal holiday known as Thanksgiving. Oops, probably should have called ahead on that one. Next stop was food, we had plans to camp until Monday and needed some provisions. Fortunately we scrambled in and out of an ironically named grocery store, Big Save, about fifteen minutes before they closed for the holiday. We couldn’t find any fuel for our camp stove, but we certainly weren’t going to starve immediately.
Stocked with canned chili, noodles, and pineapple soda (a mistake) we were ready to begin our adventure and headed out from Lihue to the south side of the island. One of the remarkable things about Kauai is abundance of chickens. They are everywhere; begging in parking lots, perched on impossibly steep cliff sides, cock-a-doodle doo-ing at two in the morning. We checked out the spouting horn, where waves crashing against lava rock send a burst of spray twenty feet in the air and moderately amused tourist stand behind a protective fence taking pictures. Unimpressed by most things that can be accessed by car, we returned to our car to find an activity that we could drive to and then hike to.

We found a suitable hike down the road and spent the rest of the afternoon scrambling around limestone ridges and gazing down at impossibly blue water. I spotted a shearwater (that’s a bird, folks) hunkered down in a rock hole and that was really exciting, almost as good as a turtle. As the afternoon wore on we grew decidedly, stomach growling-ly, hungry. Upon finally reaching our destination beach we promptly turned around to hike back to food (it was a little late in the day for swimming, anyway). On the hike back it was decided that pizza would be the best way of celebrating the holiday. Unfortunately once back on the road we soon discovered the pizza place was closed, as was every single other eating establishment on that side of the island. I guess that isn’t too surprising given that it was 5pm on thanksgiving. We headed out to a beach at the end of the highway for the night. It was dark by time we arrived so we ate our cold thanksgiving chili out of the can while sitting on some driftwood next to the car. For dessert was the grocery store pumpkin pie, which I must say, doesn’t hold a candle to the one I made the week before.

The pie reappeared for breakfast the next morning at approximately the same time as the rain clouds. The beach was lovely but the surf made swimming out of the question so we headed out for some adventure at Koke’e state park. On the way to the park we stopped at a coffee shop and I had the best mocha of my life. I think it would still have been amazing even if I hadn’t spent the past night in a hammock being eaten alive by bugs (nope, still haven’t learned to set up a tent).
Koke’e state park is up in the mountains on the west side of the island. It offers incredible views of the whole Ne Pali coast and some amazing hiking. We picked a nice easy 8 mile stroll and set off towards the Alakai swamp. I have a lot of pictures from the trail and in nearly all there is Joe, ahead of me up the trail. I generally would not consider myself a slow hiker, but Joe’s casual hiking pace is a speed I typically only assume when being chased by a horde of enraged rhinos. Sometimes he actually runs. I don’t.

Eventually the trail, which was slick and muddy from the get go, was replaced by a boardwalk as we approached the swamp. Cruising across the planks, the mesh nailed to wood clattered and rang; as our feet strummed the boardwalk banjo we undoubtedly scared off every bird within miles. For the majority of the hike in we had incredible views but as we reached the look out at the end of the trail a thick wall of fog blanketed everything. There was a small crowd on the viewing platform looking hopefully into the milky white expanse which, it turns out, should have been a view of half the island. Walking back through the swamp in the thick fog reminded me a little of that part from Lord of the Rings, you know, when Frodo, Sam , and Gollum are walking through the swamp with all the dead people? Good thing we had such a nice, noisy, boardwalk to scare off all the living, and non-living, creatures.

That night we got our pizza and then headed towards the north side because we wanted to hike along the famous Ne Pali Coast the next day. We spent the night in a hostel (bed sheets!!!) and it was probably a good thing we didn’t camp because it was absolutely pouring in the morning. The rain seemed to be letting up by 9 so we headed on up the coast towards the trail. It was closed; something about flash flood warnings. Alright, no hiking on the north side. Swimming was also out of the question as most beaches were sporting waves large enough to crush small cars.
One nice thing about Kauai is that it has a wet side and a dry side. Our rainy side plans had been stricken so we headed back to the dry side. And this is how we ended up a beach camp ground with crazy people. Actually the camp ground was quite full so the few crazy people make up only a tiny, but loud, fraction of its inhabitants. We spent the afternoon lounging on the beach and for dinner had cold pasta boiled the morning before at the hostel. The pumpkin pie made a final appearance and was deemed inedible due to the new found growth of small white bacterial colonies across the surface of the filling. If the scientific world ever runs out of agar I think I know a substitute. The camp ground was packed so we claimed a spot on the sand; the stars were incredible and the sound of the waves softened the shouts of the crazy people, making for an almost good night’s sleep.

The next morning we headed back up to Koke’e park for another gorgeous 8 mile stroll up mountains and across cliff sides. It was stunning, even that part where the trail was washed out and I thought I was going to fall into the valley 3,000 feet below. Out of the park, back down in Waimea, we visited Jo Jo’s Shave Ice for some fruity flavored amazingness. Shave ice (there is no d) is great, but when you combine it with vanilla ice cream I think it might actually become an addictive drug. Just thinking about it…. Need to stop to wipe the drool of my key board….
With plans of attempting another hike on the Ne Pali coast we headed back up to the north side of the island for the night and found a nice beach park to camp in. It was comforting to watch the small children run around with multi colored glowsticks, much nicer then the crazy people shouting obscenities. One small child stole our flashlight, but for the price of a cookie promised to put it down and never touch it again.
In the morning we headed out to the end of the road and were happy to see that the trail was open. We flew home that evening so there wasn’t really time to do a major hike. Instead of the 22 miles we had originally planned we hiked about two, and then found a beach for the rest of the afternoon. The weather was glorious, the water brilliant, and the snorkeling mediocre. The fish were really cool, but the coral was sadly almost non-existent. None of the large number of other beach goers seemed the least bit bothered by this and the water was filled with remarkably pale people snorkeling about in a few feet of water. I suspect that the snorkeling was better out farther across the reef but I was not going to attempt that without fins, a buddy, and a little assurance that I wouldn’t be swept out to sea.
All to soon it was time to return to Lihue, hand back the keys to our awkward little rental car, and catch a flight back to the Hawaiian island we call home. Living in paradise is tough, isn’t it?