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Trip Report Walking With Whales in Kauai -- a Songdoc Trip Report

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Those of you who have read my reports know that since falling under Kauai’s spell I’ve been spending as much time as possible there. Three trips added up to four months in the past year. (Being a writer affords me the luxury of being able to work wherever my laptop can find an electrical socket—except for when I travel to teach workshops.) So you might find this hard to believe—but on this trip I fell more in love with Kauai than ever. But it was a very “different” kind of trip …

As always, when I landed in Lihue (from Nashville) the Honda Passport I rent from Paradise Car Rentals was waiting for me in the airport parking lot. FYI, this is the island version of Rent-a-Wreck, and cost me $580 (total) for 29 days. I drove five minutes to the nearby Kauai Beach Resort for my first night. After all that travel I typically stay there before driving up to Princeville.

The next morning I strolled on the beach with those great views of Sleeping Giant then drove into Kapa’a for great views of a massive banana/macadamia pancake at Kountry Kitchen.

I soaked away the jet lag in the Jacuzzi (bliss) before checking out of the hotel and stocking up at Costco and Walmart. Then … a BBQ chicken skewer and wonton saimin at Hamura’s. Heaven! Now … the 90 minute drive to Princeville.

As I went through the tunnel of albizia trees near Anahola I knew I was “home.” That’s one of my favorite views anywhere. Soon, the beauty of the North Shore peaks reminded me why I am addicted to this island.

I returned to Sealodge unit J2 and was once again blown away by those views. FYI, Sealodge was the first condo complex built in Princeville. This means it’s older than the other complexes—but that’s why it’s got the primo views—and that’s all I care about.

I sat on the lanai sipping tea while facing the lighthouse and the Anini reef. It didn’t take long before I was welcomed by the sight of whales spouting, splashing, and showing me their tails. I poked around and found that the owners had bought fantastic new cookware since my last visit. They’d left me a nice note and a bottle of wine, too.

So … what made this visit different? A couple of things … I typically sit on the lanai and write all day. But after the first week, the latest draft of my manuscript was sent to an editor for feedback—so I had lots of free time!! Um, er … but not for long ;-)

I’d been having some health issues for months, and after countless tests and prescriptions, I decided to see an acupuncturist. This meant driving three times a week to Kapa’a—about forty minutes each way. Between the drive, and the 90-minute session, and breakfast at Kountry Kitchen (hey, I was already practically there!) at least half the day was gone.

After each session, I would drive up to Kealia Beach and walk on my favorite walking path. Sooo beautiful—and I felt like I was walking with the whales, because they were always there. So, a dozen days were spent getting pricked then strolling the walking/bike path, followed by setting up my chair at Kealia Beach to read, and watch the amazing surfers. A couple of the acupuncture appointments ended late afternoon, and by the time I hit the walking path it was glowing with the most beautiful sunset light. I’m a bit of a photography nut and I took tons of photos.

Speaking of walking … there was another big difference this time … I had packed my hiking boots and looked forward to all of my favorite hikes: the Canyon Trail at Koke’e, the Kuilau Trail, (not to be confused with the Kalalau Trail), and maybe the steep one that takes you high above Hanalei … But the stabbing icepick in my knee told me this was probably not a terrific idea. GRRRR ….

FYI, I travel with carry-on only (no matter where I go—or for how long) and I was NOT happy to have taken up so much space in my carry-on bag with hiking boots that never got worn! But thankfully, gentle, flat strolls were okay—or I would have been miserable.

What else was different about this visit? One of my goals had been to spend a little time each day trying to learn some basic French phrases. In a few days I’ll be going to Ireland to teach and perform, followed by a vacation in Paris. Neither DP nor I speak a word of French beyond “bonjour.” So I got my Hawai’i library card ($25 for non-residents for five years) and brought back some books and CDs.

Well … as luck would have it I was introduced to a visitor who is a native French speaker. So, when I wasn’t being a human pincushion, I was getting French lessons in Ha’ena. It was a fascinating experience because she was staying at the YMCA Camp—just north of Mediterranean Gourmet restaurant. I got a glimpse of a very different approach to life.

Her cabin was less than spartan; in fact …. it made “spartan” look like the Grand Hyatt. Basically, four dingy walls containing 4 bunk beds. But, ohhhh the views!!! I’d heard that beach was stunning, but had never been there.

My teacher was paying $15 a night for a bed with one of the best views on the planet, and the lullaby of waves crashing only feet away. The little details—that she had no kitchen, no privacy, and shared a communal bathroom (on the far side of the campground)—didn’t bother her in the least. “Who needs a kitchen when I have zees beauty?” She ate bread with peanut butter; granola; and fresh fruit. Sometimes, she’d walk to Mediterranean Gourmet for a cup of coffee and a bagel, or a salad.

Some of the people camping in tents brought coolers and she had a little propane burner, so she could make tea. On her birthday, she cooked pasta for the other campers. I brought her a bottle of wine, and they had a party under the stars.

She hitchhiked or took buses, took long ocean swims with the turtles, and seemed as happy as if she were spending $2800/night for a suite at the St. Regis.

After my lessons (and sometimes, during) we’d go for long walks along the beach and return via streets so we could gawk at some of the incredible homes. Graham Nash (of Crosby, Stills, & Nash) lives there. There was one sunset when the waves seemed to be illuminated from within. What a beautiful area.

So, dear readers … after acupuncture and French lessons there wasn’t much time left for anything else—and then my manuscript came back with lots of notes to incorporate. But … here are some highlights of the things I managed to squeeze in between.

I enjoyed a healthy, tasty lunch of shrimp, sautéed veggies, and brown rice outside at Lotus Garden in the Princeville center while listening to a concert by “Mickey,” an excellent ukulele player. I could have sat there and listened to him all day. Actually, I sipped some lemon ginger tea and stayed quite a while.

Saw a feral pig with a baby (soooo cute!!!) grazing near the airport. (Of course they seemed perfectly happy and content to be grazing – until I was literally about to snap the photo!!!)

Stopped at Wailua Falls on a beautiful day and took one of the best photos I will ever take. That is such a special place.

On the days when I didn’t walk the path north of Kapa’a, I strolled the length of Hanalei Bay in the surf. Bliss!!! No matter how many times I return, the beauty never stops surprising me.

On my first day at Hanalei Bay I captured an exquisite rainbow emblazoned on the cliffs.

I saw a marvelous play (“Loveland”) performed at the Church of the Pacific. Afterward, I enjoyed a mini writing workshop with the author.

I took a stroll along the Princeville golf course to the St. Regis. I sat on a bench at the overlook next to Pali ke Kua and watched the whales in the distance. But hands-down the most amazing whale experience was while sitting on a bench in front of building “A” at Sealodge.

I was watching what I assumed was a mama and baby in the distance. Why did I assume that? Because they stayed close to each other—and one spout was considerably higher than the other! Suddenly there was a breech impossibly close to me. It seemed the water would have been much too shallow to support a whale, but there were two of them frolicking for at least thirty minutes. They were unbelievably close. I’ve never been that close to whales unless I was on a boat—and it was really a thrill!!!

I had a perfect day at Ke’e Beach. It was very voggy that day and the cliffs were shrouded adding to the beauty.

Also enjoyed picnics at Anini, saying “hello” to the souls arriving at Anahola beach ( according to the Dalai Lama), and tasty tacos at Paco’s truck in Kapa’a.

But the most fun of all was looking at real estate!!! At this point it’s just research. Unless I found something I couldn’t live without (and could rent out until I’m able to move full-time) I’m probably a couple of years away from moving. But I think I got a good sense of what’s available in some different price ranges and different areas.

Unfortunately, the views at Sealodge have spoiled me. For a full-time residence, I think the 2-bedroom (around 750 sf) is just too small. And those kinds of views at the places I loved are out of my price range.

I learned that you can buy fantastic homes and condos—with no views—for reasonable prices—and fantastic views—with very little home—for reasonable prices. But I WANT IT ALL. I’ve seen a lot of “impossible” things happen in my life—and I’m not giving up on this dream yet. When the time comes, if I’m not able to have it all, we’ll decide what we can live with—and what we can’t live without.

So what about the weather and the swimming conditions on the notorious North Shore??? It seemed cooler than most of my other trips—including the ones I’ve taken during the winter. But “cool” is relative.

I was there 29 days: January 9th – February 7th. Most days were in the low- to mid-70’s. For me, that was perfect. But if I’d wanted to lie on the beach all day and swim, it would have been a little too cool. But lots of people were lying out and swimming. I figured those were the folks from Minnesota.

The breezes are strong in the unit I stayed in, and mornings and evenings were spent in sweatshirts and jeans. In between, it was shorts and T-shirts.

There were a handful of days that were actually HOT (probably around 80 – 82 and not as breezy.) There were 2 rainy days—where it actually rained all day—or during most of the daylight hours.

Otherwise, there was a smattering of days that were gray and cloudy—with occasional sun; about an equal number of days that were sunny with a smattering of gray clouds; and a few days that started out—or ended—rainy, but were beautiful for most of the day.

And what about the surf? Most days, lots of people were swimming and the North Shore waves were just fine. But when I went to Ke’e Beach (for which the parking was even worse than normal) there was no snorkeling permitted. The waves were breaking pretty big out by the reef—yet were calm closer to shore.

Hanalei Bay was closed one day due to high surf—but every other time I went (at least ten times), the swimming was fine; not as placid as in the summer—but not huge waves, either. Several times the beaches were posted with warnings re: rough currents—but there were still lots of people swimming close to the lifeguard stations.

The conventional wisdom is always, “never stay on the North Shore in the winter.” I’ve spent a month—spanning January/February for the past four years. There has been one mostly “rainy” week out of those four months. ‘nuff said.

Amazing, my flight from Kauai to LAX was almost empty: 37 people on the entire plane. I stretched out across an entire row. The next leg was the opposite: not one empty seat—but it arrived more than 30 minutes early, so I won’t complain. But the most amazing thing is that I’ve had virtually no jet lag. Don’t know why—but it’s great. Now, gotta pack and get ready to leave in three days for an additional seven hour time change on top of the five hours. AGGHH. Let’s see how the jet lag is in a few days!

Well, that’s all he wrote! My addiction and appreciation of this paradise is stronger than ever, and I can’t wait to return!!!

Mahalo nui for reading.

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