Kauai: More Than a Fantasy Island

Into every life a little rain must fall. On Kauai, a lot of rain falls -- over 460 inches a year.

Kauai's an island so fantastic that as my plane approaches, I peer out the window searching for a fun-sized man in a white suit pointing up at the sky announcing my arrival.

This last island in the Hawaiian chain offers everything you could want and more. Picture the best massage ever, and add a "happy ending". As you lie there, spent, completely satisfied, you slowly open your eyes and come back to reality. The swarthy masseur (let's call him Bob) is actually the mate of your dreams and he is on one knee, holding a massive engagement ring in one hand and a Guarantee of a Lifetime of Happiness in the other. Somehow he's grown a third hand that does the dishes and takes out the garbage, always and forever.

You had me at aloha, Kauai.

Kauai Beach

More a drunk politician than a tiny island, Kauai offers everything. Why do you think we bought it? On or about 200AD, a Tahitian man, lost in a canoe, made a wrong turn near Bora Bora. He refused  to ask for directions. He defiantly rowed for 2000 miles, eventually hitting Kauai. His wife hit him with divorce papers as she disembarked.

I recommend touring Kauai like I devour my favorite dessert, Floating Island. I take my time eating around the edges, eventually venturing in and devouring the entire dish. 

My inspiration to experience the stunning and magnificent famed Na Pali coast was the Marine Corps emblem -- an eagle, globe and anchor. It represents our presence in the air, on land and at sea.

Na Pali Coast Kauai, Hawaii

First, I took a catamaran on a slow cruise along its impossibly steep cliffs. I gave thanks to the dancing dolphins for their cocky escort that protected the boat from being capsized by huge whales. The cliffs of the Na Pali coast glow a freakish green; their foliage so dense that they seem wrapped in velvet.

Unless you're a paralyzed Deborah Kerr in An Affair to Remember, get up and hike it. Navigate your way up and down rocky paths. The earth is a brilliant red, angry that it's constantly trampled. That dirt vows to get the last laugh by staining your shoes, socks and mind.

In a defiant protest to get star billing, the sunset, vowing stubbornly to occur each and every night, lights your path so you can step on the dirt and show it who's boss. Note to self: wear hiking shoes, not the loose fitting slip-ons that fell apart on the hike.

I went to Viet Nam as a tourist, not to hunt gooks for the Marines. But to get that Apocalypse Now rush, I took a helicopter ride. Our pilot had a License to Thrill. He swooped up, down, and in between the cliffs of the Na Pali Coast. One moment we''re safely hovering inside a green valley, concerned that a waterfall spouting from a cliff was caused by a leak -- (I didn't have cell service so I couldn't call for help or report the problem to God). And then our pilot suddenly and dramatically pulled out, like a condom-less Catholic on a Friday night praying he wouldn't have another nino. He rose the chopper up to scare the poi out of me with a stunning reveal of the vast Waimea Canyon and coastline.

When we landed, I had the strangest urge for a Hanoi hooker, and a cigarette.And I don't even smoke.

They filmed Jurassic Park on Kauai. My guide Grant is from Oregon, but adapted to island life completely. Without discussion he climbed up a tree and started shaking it madly until it spit out fruit. I don't think it was even a fruit tree; however, it acquiesced. Soon we were eating guava, risking consuming unwashed tropical fruit for this native experience. He hikes the challenging coast barefoot and once lost all of his toenails doing so. I have a problem with that. He runs around almost naked, even into stores and restaurants. I do not have a problem with that.

Grant wanted to show us the gates used in the film Jurassic Park which are still in place. He not only has washboard abs and a treasure trail that should be in a museum -- but also a terrible sense of time and distance. He casually pointed up a road

"It's up there," he said.

Turns out, that's Grant-speak for we will drive for an hour up many miles, and barely make it as this Jeep rocks back and forth over boulders the size of fat fire dancers. But he played fun music, and shot us a reassuring grin as we bumped up the steep -- NOT A ROAD.

Grant pulled out pink and yellow plastic rafts for our party blow up. In the Marines, we used similar rafts to sleep on during filed maneuvers but they were green and we called them "rubber bitches"

The spot on which we stood on Kauai was once an irrigation ditch built in the 1930's that passed through a mountain, ending up in a secluded pool underneath giant falls. We were to float through the tunnel on the rafts once we blew them up.

Don't smoke. It causes health problems, it costs money, and you can't help me blow up cheap rafts. I don't smoke; therefore I blew up three rafts. By raft two I was seeing stars.

blowing up a raft on Kauai

Also please don't go into an irrigation tunnel if you can't swim. One in our party couldn't; but on the rough drive up here we'd apparently lost our transmission and inhibitions.

As I stepped into the icy, rapidly rushing river, it was hard to control my raft and hop on it. And I'm amazingly strong. We had one shot -- because the current of the water was so fast we got instantly carried away into the dark, aluminum tunnel (it's about four feet high). Grant led us off, my non-swimming friend followed, and I made up the rear.

The tunnel was pitch black. The water was shockingly freezing. Had Helen Keller chosen this moment for her Miracle, it would have gone unnoticed as she frantically and desperately spelled w-a-t-e-r into the air and not a hand -- for absolutely no one.

I heard the screams of my non-swimming friend. I caught up with her in a second (which I be seemed an hour to her), grabbed her and discovered that her raft was deflating. I dragged her onto my raft and continued down the curving tunnel. In a cleverly cruel metaphor for life, we had no say on our wild path. My raft started losing air, too, and my knees were hitting the rocky bottom. All I could think about was the rest of my trip, me only wearing shorts and looking like Nancy Kerrigan all bruised and beaten.

Somehow I kept my friend on the raft, calming her down with stories of my gilded childhood. Basically that meant I yelled at her to shut the hell up and hang on, that it would all be over soon -- the same record my own sweet mother played as I was raised. Maybe this was like birth; we get forced through a watery dark passage to life's unknown fate. 

I saw light. We were spat out of the canal -- born into a pool about fifty feet across. I released my friend. We could all easily stand in the five-feet deep, calm water. I'd adjusted to the nut-tightening freezing cold water; but even my beloved acting coach Kate McGregor-Stewart herself couldn't have prepared me for the scene I was in.

On my right, a waterfall crashed noisily into the pool. I searched up the cliff, my eyes unable to spot the source hundreds of feet above. I swam ahead to the pool's far end, to find the river of water rushing away to my left, down the mountain to its certain death into the Pacific Ocean.

We all floated there in silence. I knew I wasn't the first guy that our slutty tour guide Grant brought here; but I didn't care. It still felt special. It was worth the danger. Plus the cold water stopped the bleeding on my banged-up knees.

After loitering for an hour, we began the hour long hike back to the car. The trail was rocky and we had no shoes. I was just in my package puffer tiny bathing suit. A gentle rain began to fall. As I hiked up and over the mountain, again I was reminded of my time in the Marines.

We used to go on forced marches in cheap boots, carrying seventy-pound backpacks. That difficult training with abject conditions made this barefoot naked hike along a jagged path seem a cakewalk, and in a way, possible. It was one of the most wonderful walks of my life. I glanced back to look at my Bob, so glad he was with me so we could tell our golden retriever about this experience one day.

See Kauai. See all of Kauai. Get blown away by the breakfast pizza at Living Foods Market in Poipu and teach a wild chicken to fetch crust. Sure, he knew how to fetch crust before you came here, but even that spastic, scrawny chicken will make you believe it's your Hawaii.

I will tell you a few more island stories soon.  Here is my review of the St. Regis Princeville that ran on Huffington Post. There's even more to that story.... stay tuned, stay tanned, and mahalo.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, Greg, does this bring back memories. Not that I did anything as rigorous as your account describes when I went to Kaui. But what you wrote evokes the beauty of that island. It is other-worldly. I went in about 1992, I think. Thanks for writing this. Amazing. Boy, do I need a vacation.


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