When I lived in a suburb of Chicago, I never once rode the elevator to the top of the Sears Tower. It was only after moving to Kansas City and landing a division of Sears as a client that I traveled back to the Windy City on business and made the journey to the then-tallest building in the world.
Sometimes, we ignore the opportunities closest to us.
Even living in Hawaii. I went years without visiting Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge a mere 11 miles from my house, 15 minutes door-to-door. When I heard about a docent-training program for the seabird sanctuary a few years ago, I signed up. Now, I spend Friday afternoons as a volunteer there. It’s a commitment, so I show up. I am forced to enjoy the six species of seabirds and one goose that make their home at Kilauea Point. I am required to photograph the giant waves that crash against the cliff faces in winter—unless, of course, I am traveling to Maui, say, for the Kapalua Wine & Food Festival. And, let me tell you, the rewards are numerous. I’ve helped band seabirds, I’ve counted migrating humpback whales from a lookout atop Crater Hill, and I’ve traveled to Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge to count albatross nest sites. (I’ve also performed seabird necropsies and sat awed over nature’s intricate inner workings. Maybe not everyone’s weekend’s cup of tea, but my inner biologist drank it up.)
Another way to pry me away from my desk and out the door to explore the amazing island on which I live is to visit.
This past weekend, my husband and I enjoyed sharing Kauai with our friends Laura, Billy and Mimi who are visiting from the Sacramento, California area.
We started the weekend with Kilauea Point on Friday afternoon and watched as a member of the construction team that will refurbish the Kilauea Point Lighthouse scampered on the catwalk outside the lamp room taking measurements. An unusual northeast swell (for the summer, that is) slammed against the cliffs to the east of the point. Wedge-tailed shearwaters incubated eggs in their burrows. And one lone Laysan albatross chick remained to fledge on Albatross Hill.
I introduced my friends to Ranger Christa, and we all made plans to go scuba diving next week. I met the mother and grandmother of Melody, a fixture at Kilauea Bakery , where I often stop for a pastry or a Pau Hana Pizza pie. (Have you ever had fish pizza? I hadn’t either until I went here. And I would have never ordered it if it wasn’t for another friend, Susan, who brought it to my house for Friday Night Pizza & Movie Night. It’s not cheap, but it certainly is good.)
After the refuge closed, at 4:00 p.m., Laura, Billy, Mimi and I headed to Kilauea Video, Ice Cream & Candy. This is one of those uniquely Kauai experiences. There is a shop in Hanalei that sells videos, ukuleles and knitting supplies. There was once a place in Kapaa that housed a Maytag repairman and art gallery in one outlet. This shop specializes in renting videos and selling ice cream.
The ice cream at Kilauea Video, Ice Cream & Candy isn’t your ordinary ice cream. It is made on Maui from homegrown ingredients. Even the waffle cones are made locally, by Ono Cones of Hawaii. After an afternoon in the hot sun, I selected the owner’s favorite—mango lychee gelato. At $4.50 per cone, the place is pricey, a theme you’ll find on the north shore, which explains why I save this as a treat for visiting friends and family. By the way, check out TripAdvisor and Yelp . All 85 reviews give this place 5 stars.
Saturday night found us at the Kapaa Jodo Mission for their annual bon dance festival. We ate “pronto pups” (you may know them as corn dogs) and “flying saucers” (a.k.a sloppy joe’s) and chili rice, the staple foods of these events happening most every weekend throughout the summer across the Hawaiians Islands.
Bon dancing came to Hawaii from the Japanese. It is a Buddhist tradition of honoring the departed spirits of ancestors. In Japan, the event dates back some 500 years. Here in Hawaii, according to The Garden Island newspaper, the celebration got its start in 1910. Today, the dances rotate throughout the summer season from one church to another. You could, like my friend Laura is considering, follow the festival around the island and dance every Friday and Saturday evenings from mid-June through July. Everyone is invited to participate, no matter age, gender, ethnicity or religious belief.
The dance centers on the yagura—tall, wooden scaffolding, from which white lights and paper lanterns spiral and under which drummers pound out the beat. Loudspeakers broadcast music and dancers—dressed in anything from shorts and T-shirt to full kimono—circle around.
I have lived on Kauai for over 10 years now and this was my first bon dance. Thank goodness for visiting friends.
The next evening, we drove north for Hanalei . The world changes when you drop into Hanalei, the legendary surf town of Kauai. As you cross the one-lane bridge the drive amidst working taro fields, you can feel it. Life runs on a different clock here. Like no clock.
We climbed aboard a Hawaiian sailing canoe for a sunset excursion. Our Kauai-born captain, Del, popped out his ukulele and sang while his first-mate Mike steered us around the crescent-shaped bay. Rain clouds from showers earlier in the day hovered over the mountains behind Hanalei town, offering dramatic photographic opportunities. Waterfalls dripped hundreds of feet like thin, threads of frothy, cake icing as water lapped alongside the double-hull canoe.
I have paddled canoes in this bay many, many times—mostly as a competitor of races or on training runs, but I had never sailed in one. Sailing is a completely different experience. It is more like cruising the sea as a honu, turtle, noshing on limu, seaweed, rather than a Tiger shark prowling for a meal.
Del put down his ukulele to help Mike steer us off-shore. We skirted the surf break off the Hanalei River known as Summers and headed east. “Look at that nice right,” Laura said, referring to a right-breaking wave. “Whoa. Look at Hideaways,” Mike said about another surf break. “It’s firing.”
The same northeast swell that slapped the cliffs at Kilauea Point on Friday was still creating clean waves for surfing on Sunday evening.
We headed into the wind, climbing one rolling wave after another, riding a gentle roller coaster ride. Wedge-tailed shearwater buzzed the waves foraging for food, and we trailed a fishing line in the water for kavakava, known as an English/mackerel tuna, that didn’t tempt a thing.
As the sun began its fall into the ocean, we turned around. (And, then, turned around again to retrieve my hat that blew off.)
Del angled the canoe for the bay. We sailed down-wind and down-swell, so we picked up speed. The rear of the boat lifted, and we slid down a wave big enough to make Mike yell, “Grab the ukulele.” Priorities, you know.
Canoe sailing--and surfing--was the perfect finale to the weekend, even eclipsing the setting sun.
It’s a good thing friends come to visit once in a while, so we get to enjoy our island home. Thanks Laura, Billy & Mimi.
P.S. Surf story and the answer to the mysterious blog post is next. Stay tuned.