“There’s really no career here,” the trim, grey haired shop clerk shared. She was dressed smartly in a turquoise and cream wrap dress, professional among the Hawaiiana knick-knacks of vintage girls and tea towels. “I used to work at high-end art galleries in Boston, but I gave that up to come here.”
The clerk shared two sentiments that I’d heard frequently from transplanted locals throughout my six-day stay in Kauai. One, they were from another place and two, had given up the uptight “mainland” to come here, the seemingly most natural and relaxed of all the Hawaiian Islands
Thank God, I thought. Thank God there were no careers in Kauai. Careers put people on a life schedule with goals and achievements and rungs to claw up. They fostered endless jittering and nervous intensity like Blackberry checking, “touchbases” and TPS reports. Kauai cradled no such activity. There was no place for uptight dedication to forward professional movement. There was only a beautiful Kauai flow that swirled around one like the current at Hanalei beach. A flow found in lazy mornings, endless summer beaches, afternoon rain showers, and “big” cities that turned in at about 9 p.m.
I’d arrived at the Lihue airport on Thanksgiving Day. November had been too hectic. I’d let activities, deadlines and to dos pile up and drive me into the ground. My body was tense for the entire month and even a cocktail on the plane didn’t relax me. The island started in on me though right away. In one inhale of the bright humid air just seen past the open-air baggage claim to right me. One breath in and I slowed down. One breath out and I knew the pace here was different, and just what I needed.
My residence for the six days outside Kapa’a, near the eastern side of the island. It wasn’t near the beach, but up into folded green cliffs that opened into mossy-green valleys and dramatic waterfall canyons. I found the “Goddess Temple” through airbnb.com and arrived to find two women, the hosts, Taffy and Nea, in the kitchen. “Aloha. Make yourself at home,” they said, got me tea, and let me settle into a dark wood rattan chair on the lanai. My body sank into the cushion and my mind followed.
My view was of two things: an impossibly green valley where sunlight and mist shared space over the tufts of eucalyptus and banyan trees; and a heart shaped palm tree where great fronds started at the red center and spread out like angel wings. It was smack in the middle of the view, but instead of annoyance (my mainland tendency to anything getting in my way), I felt like the branches were open arms, welcoming and comforting me. I was disconnecting from the mainland’s intense grid and already starting to feel at home in Kauai’s flow.
The house was peppered with crystals and spiritual totems like a life size picture of Quan Yin and statues of the goddess Isis. The home was populated with a visiting family and the three resident women, all of a spiritual bent and healers. They talked of “Spirit” like she was in the next room and spoke of the island’s magic, temples, and all encompassing flow. “Plans fall apart here. It’s all about the flow. In the morning, you might hike the Na Pali coast and in the evening book a trip to Machu Picchu to hike the Incan trail,” shared Tina, a spiritual healer in Kabbalah.
I shared some of why I had come to Kauai – nature, beaches, and to relax. Tina gave me her spiritual take on my situation. “You’re life back home is rearranging itself, preparing for the next step. You’re here to let it do that and reconnect to your spirit and the spirit of Kauai.” Taffy placed her hand on my head and heart and “read” me. “You have a big, big heart, but just need to get out of your head.” Sounded like medicine, I was ready to do all of it.
Easing into Kauai Days
My days easily found a pattern. I’d get up at about 7:30 a.m. and make myself a cup of tea. The weather was humid, but sometimes cool in the morning, the heat of the tea warming my bare arms. My seat was that same rattan chair I’d met on my first day. Sometimes a pierce of sunshine shone through and alight the valley, sometimes the rain would mist over. The open-armed palm tree would give me a morning hug. I’d think of nothing, comforting myself that all the tense thoughts I woke up with didn’t really matter when there was tropical bliss right in front of me. And that’s all I needed to think about.
The house woke up around nine, the women gathering in the kitchen, slicing fresh pineapple, papayas, and mangoes, even with a little coconut meat on the side. My thoughts were as light as this diet. I had a perma-grin from eating the succulent fresh fruit and warming my belling with green tea. The intimacy was easy in this house – the talk would be fun and fickle, serious and compassionate, or guiding and thoughtful. Through these mornings, these women became my Kauai family.
Snorkeling at Anini Beach
For the first days, I flowed right into the water the North Shore Kauai beaches. I was looking for calm for snorkeling but also any warm sand to find a place to prop my head and read. It was the first time I allowed myself uninterrupted reading in a long time.
I snorkeled at Anini beach, right off of the Kilauea Road. The azure water was flat, shielded by a breakwater. Snorkelers popped in and out with breathing tubes periscopes above their heads. I put on my fins and mask and blended right into the waves.
The Anini coral was gray and stubby, with some colorful fans peeking out. It was the fish that were the rainbows. I paddled behind parrot fish, striped Tang fish, Angel fish, and a black, white, and yellow fish that looked like it had an eye on each end. I floated over and beyond, the sun and water warming my front and back. Sometimes I propelled myself, and other times I just floated with the water and slight current. There were no crowds, just pockets of people who’d set up a little day camp with the fishes.
The Lumaha’i Beach was too dramatic – the waves pulled me in with gorilla arms. Hanalei Beach was an open mouth to the Pacific that hosted surfers, stand up paddle boarders, and running dogs. The island’s weather system didn’t allow a sun-soaked visit to this famous, more active beach. It was cloudy or rainy in the afternoons. On the South Shore, Poipu Beach had excellent snorkeling, but the day I visited, winds whipped sand and my beach things across the narrow golden shore. There was no relaxation or flow, just what seemed like a forceful reminder to move back to the North Shore.
Hiking the Na Pali Coast
I started my hike along the Na Pali at Ke’e Beach at the literal end of the road (Highway 560). The Kalalau Trail starts at road’s end and winds up for views where the steep land sloughs right off into the Pacific. A tight red dirt path curves with the mountainside and native Pandanu tree roots rise up next to the steep sides. My destination was Hanakapi’ai Beach, two miles along this tight path. The sun was bright and hot, the rays mixed with the Pacific’s mist and created a haze along the coast’s green ribbon. The path alternated under cool tropical shade and slick grey rocks or open heat and dry red gravel.
The trail rose and fell, rose and fell, each time bringing a new breathtaking view around each curve. I took my time. The San Francisco hills had prepared me for the workout so I was not tired or out of breath like some of my fellow hikers, although not nearly as fit as the backpackers I passed walking the full eleven miles to camp out. I hoped for a swim upon arrival of Hanakapi’ai, but a sign had a tally of swimmers who’d drowned at this particular beach. The waves looked vicious. I soaked my feet in a cool fresh water stream instead of risking my life for an ocean swim.
It was near sunset when I returned back to where I started. The waves at Ke’e beach were gentler so I flopped into the water and soaked my whole body. There was barely a current, only a cool bath in a shallow pool. The beach filled up with families and friends, laying out blankets and Longboard beers in the sand, grabbing a spot for a Kauai sunset. Dripping, I laid out my sarong and sat in for the show. The sunsets in San Francisco can be layers of pink and drama along Lands End, but here it was an easy golden sunset, shining bright light on the audience.
Kayaking the Wailua River
My hosts asked me to go to the Blue Room, a cave that alights in indigo from an opening in the roof, on my last day. I said no, I felt the call of a river. Perhaps it was another version of flow I needed, I was hooked. I booked a day trip with Kayak Kauai for a guided tour to the Secret Waterfall (known to locals as Uluwehi Falls). We launched in Kapa’a and stroked steadily along a wide dark green river inland, away from the demanding Pacific. The landscape was flat at first and then riversides rose into black rock and tree-covered cliffs.
Our tour guide shared a kayak with me, the only single on the trip. He did this trip once a day and propelled us strongly with the current. I was happy that I did not have to paddle too hard. I let my fingers drift in the water, creating a little V along side our boat.
Our group landed on shore of a jungle – vines dropped from tall trees next to our path. We followed a river one mile inland to the Secret Waterfall. It wasn’t too secret – about four other groups were camped along craggy rocks at its base. Still the waterfall scene did not feel crowded. A thick stream of water dove 125 feet into a calm dark green pool about 30 feet across, creating only slight waves from a distance. Most people watched the constant plunge from the sidelines, only a few pairs ventured to the waterfall at a time.
I walked carefully over a rock garden and into the cold water towards the waterfall. When I could not feel the bottom, I treaded closer and closer to the pounding water. The force of the water created wind at the base. I grabbed a few rocks near the side and walked behind the falls. There was so much sound that there was no sound – the pounding water became white noise. Droplets on the black rock were flowing up – the forceful wind was actually making water flow up to the sky. These little droplets found a different path. Intense energy enfolded and then filled me, I felt strong. I looked out and say the pool and people in fragments, they were in another world.
Keeping the Flow
By day six, my last day, I was fully in the Kauai flow. At night I was sleeping 10 to 12 hours. I was eating one big meal a day – usually pork lau lau or fish tacos, not hungry for more than what was served up from the food truck or small cafe. I cracked open my laptop once to respond to an editor’s response on a travel essay and I didn’t resent “the work.” Words came to me in the morning and I pressed them into my essay in the afternoon. The days spread out like dough between hands.
In my last hours, I returned the rental car and the attendant handed me the receipt – the total was about $100 more than I’d estimated. “Excuse me, this is a little more than I expected,” I inquired. “That’s the refueling charge. You didn’t fill the tank up with gas,” she answered. I’d driven right past many gas stations on the way to the airport enjoying my last views of the green garden island, completely oblivious.