Aloha From the Garden Island

Mar 22, 2019   //   by bwilber   //   Bob's Blog  //  Add a Comment

Aloha, everyone. It’s another beautiful day in paradise, which is part of the reason I’m a day late getting this vacation blog posted. OK, it’s not really a vacation if you’re on an actual assignment, and that’s exactly what I’m doing here. It’s an executive position as the CCS (Chief Cat Sitter), food provider, vacuum operator, and fitness coordinator. Lots of long walks along the beaches, drives to beautiful areas, and companionship for Maxie and Biscuit.

Last year, Biscuit was not even seen for the first 48 hours, and then was only glimpsed briefly dashing for the food bowl in the dark. This year it’s much better. Biscuit will now allow me to be in the same room with him, as long as I don’t make any sudden movements. When he’s curled up and sleeping, he’ll even allow me to pet him. Progress! Maxie warmed up to me during my cat-sitting stay last year, to the point where he was on my lap during my final morning here. He seems to have retained much of that, because we’re good buddies. He’s one of the coolest cats I’ve ever met, although he’s about as goofy as he can be. And even though they were both strays and are unrelated, they treat each other like brothers. It’s fun to be here with them. Well, OK, it’s fun to be on Kauai too. Hard to believe, right?

Kauai. The Garden Island. (Click on any image to enlarge)

So here’s something I’ve never done before. It’s a map of the island of Kauai. If you click on it to enlarge it, you can get a real feel for where I am, where we typically go when we’re here, and what it’s like. Basically, everyone on Kauai lives around the edges. The entire center part of the island is mountains, waterfalls, and canyons.

Plus, if you look closely you can see that the main road around the island doesn’t connect on the northwest side. You used to be able to get a little past Hanalei up on the north shore, but torrential rains and floods back in April of 2018 wiped out some bridges (and houses) beyond the village and it’s still an ongoing project to get everything back to normal again. It’s not easy rebuilding washed out ravines and demolished bridges on an island.

So, anyway, as you can see there’s no way to get all the way around. If Kauai was a clock, from just past Hanalei and Princeville up around 12 noon, around the northwest side to just a little north of Kekaha down around 8 o’clock, it’s all wilderness. There are some incredible vistas from atop the mountains, where you can see down to this remote part of the island on the far west and northwestern sides. The only way to get there, though, is by boat.

My sister Mary and her husband Lonnie own this condo in Kapaa, which is often spelled in the more traditional Hawaiian as Kapa’a. I’m right about 3 o’clock on the right (east) side of the island. This afternoon, after I finish this and post it, I plan to make the drive up to Hanalei. It’s a wonderful little village of shops and restaurants and, as all you Peter, Paul, & Mary fans remember, it’s the fictional home of Puff, The Magic Dragon.

Historic Koloa Town

Yesterday, I drove down to Koloa Town (down around 6 o’clock) and then continued on to the beach and village of Poipu. Koloa is a great example of what Kauai is like. It’s the town that built up around the first successful sugar plantation and mill on the island, back around 1835. The word “quaint” doesn’t even come close. It’s a step back in time, and there’s more than plenty of that sort of thing on Kauai.

So, about the state of Hawaii. Most tourists from the mainland start on Oahu in Honolulu. It’s great, and a trip to Pearl Harbor ought to be mandatory for citizenship. But, it’s a truly big city with superhighways and high-rise buildings. It’s very cosmopolitan in some ways, but it’s very “big city urban” in many others. Maui is kind of the “party island” for most folks. Barbara and I were actually married on the beach there. There are too many super-luxury resorts for me to count and lots going on there, although a trip around the island to the Hana side gives you a glimpse of old Maui.

The island of Hawaii, known as The Big Island, is kind of unique too. It’s the largest island, it has huge mountains where it’s not uncommon to see snow at the top. That’s where all the gigantic observatories are, too. It has a wet side (Hilo) and a dry side (Kona) and there are some very nice luxury resorts to be found. We’ve stayed at the incredible Lava Lava Beach Club the last two times we’ve been to the Kona side of The Big Island. And our former favorite resort in the world, Kona Village which was destroyed by a tsunami, is finally being rebuilt. Can’t wait for that! The Big Island is also all about volcanoes, so there’s that footage we see on the news so regularly. All of these islands came up from the sea bed as volcanoes.

I haven’t yet been to Lanai or Molokai, but from what I’ve heard they are still very rustic, without all the hustle and bustle of a string of resorts called “Fairmont” or “Four Seasons” to entice you. I’d love to get to both islands some day.

Kauai, though, is my favorite. To be fair, with just the one main road around the edges of the island the traffic can back up easily, but the charm of it still can’t be missed. It’s old-school with some new school thrown in. There’s a reason a lot of celebrities own places on Kauai. I have personally never bumped into Pierce Brosnan, or Graham Nash, or Drew Barrymore, or even Mark Zuckerberg, but they all have homes here. OK, Zuckerberg owns about 700 prime acres, upon which sits his mansion and compound and his own helipad, so that’s not quite the same as Ms. Barrymore’s beachside bungalow. Homes are homes, I guess.

Maxie loves his new feather on a stick. He’s got a LOT of Boofus in him

Lihue, which is where the Kauai Airport is, would be the one sort of “big town” on the island. It’s over there around 4 o’clock on the map. It has a population of about 6,500 (the entire island only has a population of about 72,000) and it even has a shopping center (where my sister works, at Pier 1) a hospital, and a community college. It also has a Petco, where I made a quick stop yesterday, on the way back from Koloa and Poipu, to get these guys a couple of new toys. They went nuts for the new fresh catnip toys I brought home, and Maxie  fell in love with his new feather on a stick. Biscuit is afraid of it. That’s their two personalities on perfect display.

And speaking of “the two cats” I’m sitting for, there’s actually a third. It’s a stray feral cat that sort of adopted Mary in terms of getting food. Mary has a little bowl for food and water out on the lanai (Hawaiian term for patio or porch) so I also fill that up each day. He or she (we can’t tell yet and I can’t even get anywhere close to cat No. 3 to this point) comes by to munch in the afternoon and then sits out on the yard behind the condo for much of each day. He or she then typically sleeps on the chair out there. Maxie and Biscuit are intrigued, but they are strictly indoor kitties so never the twain shall meet. Or, as Lonnie put it, “If we let that cat into the condo, we’ll have a hundred cats within a year. Two is enough.” He’s probably right. Mary never met an animal she didn’t love, and we grew up with multiple cats in the house.

Need to find an upscale shopping and dining area near Poipu? Look for this…

Down in Poipu, there’s a wonderful shopping area that has all sorts of cool shops and restaurants. Heck, there’s even a Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, which seems about as out of place as anything on Kauai, but Poipu Beach is a real destination (with numerous resorts) so an upscale place like that does well. When we were here during Christmas, Barbara and her sister took me to a jewelry shop and that’s where I picked out my new titanium and crushed pearl wedding band. I love this ring! So much so I made a stop at the shopping area to go in and see the woman that had it made for me. And, lo and behold, she had the day off. Foiled, but I told the young girl working there to make sure she told the owner that a guy who ordered a titanium ring back in December thinks it’s the coolest ring he’s ever owned. She said she would.

So what have I been doing on this trip? Well, I’ve had a writing resurgence and I haven’t missed a walk yet. I had been in a self-inflicted dry spell in terms of writing the new book “How Far?” for about a month. First, we went to Orlando for a few days and both came back with horrible head and chest colds. I suspect a real professional writer could power through that, but I guess I’m still an amateur. I couldn’t string a sentence together when I was sick for a solid week. Then, just as I was feeling better I flew back to Florida for our SIUE Roomies Reunion at Spring Training. There’s another week shot. I was only home for parts of three days before jetting over here.

My goal was to use this as quiet time and writing time. In the last two days I wrote an entire new chapter, and at 14 pages it was the longest one of the book, so far. Plus, it’s the place in the book where some really dramatic family stuff happens for one of the characters, and that definitely got me outside my comfort zone. I’ve rarely written about stuff like that, and I was proud of it when I was done last night. I shared it with my mentor and editor Greg Halling after I finished it, and I’m either going to be “super proud” of it if he likes it, or it will be “back to the drawing board” if he has to break the news to me that I need to do better. We’ll see.

This afternoon or this evening, I’ll be starting the next chapter, with the other character. The two have really come to life, and it’s a joy to write this. I’m thrilled to be back in the saddle again. Coming over here was the best possible way for me to focus strictly on the book and not have any distractions, other than Maxie walking through the room dragging his feather and stick behind him. I can deal with that.

I’ve also stuck with the walking, and will fit another few miles in today as well. I can walk out the door here and be on the beach in two minutes, and before Mary left for the mainland she showed me a nice little two-mile loop she does that’s scenic and fun. For a more strenuous deal, I drive about five miles north to Kealia Beach, which is a great place. It has a huge parking area, picnic tables and buildings, even lifeguards, so it’s a real official style beach. The trail that runs alongside Kealia starts down here in Kapaa and runs well beyond Kealia until you come to Donkey Beach.

Donkey Beach, as seen from a little rest area above it on the trail

Donkey is still a bit of a hidden gem, because you can’t see it from the road and would need to have the local knowledge that a little wide spot on the side of the road is where you’d park if you wanted to hike to the beach. For a long time, it was so uncrowded and unknown it was a nude beach (from what I’ve read) but that was just because no one bothered to enforce the Hawaiian “No Nudity” beach law at such a secluded place. Now, it’s well enough known that they have enforced it, and it’s still a cool little beach to discover at the end of a long walk on the paved trail.

The real name of Donkey Beach is Paliku, but the legend has it that it got the Donkey nickname from the pack animals that helped haul sugar cane. Funny thing though. Those were mules, not donkeys. I guess Mule Beach just didn’t have the same ring to it.

From Kealia to Donkey and back is nearly 8,000 steps on my watch. That’s close to four miles, but it’s all along the coast and it’s pretty typical to see some whales along the way. A couple of days ago I either saw four different whales or the same whale four times. Kinda hard to tell when all you can see is the flume of spray when they blow, way out at sea. It’s still a thrill to see them, each and every time.

Another thing about Hawaii in general, which also applies to Kauai, is how expensive everything is. It pretty much has to be, or the shops and restaurants couldn’t stay in business. Everything has to be shipped in. From cereal to cars, from structural steel to milk, from all the stuff on all the shelves at the drug store to just about everything in the grocery store. It’s expensive just to get stuff like that here. Mary knows it well. At Pier 1 they have big trucks bringing shipping containers to the store every week. How else could you get all that cool furniture and other stuff to a store on Kauai? And yes, Mary has to help unload it all.

The first day, after I dropped Mary at the airport, I went across the road to Safeway to stock up on groceries. I’m not a big “eat out by myself” type of guy, and I really did come here to watch the cats, walk, and write, so I went and stocked up on groceries. Nothing unusual or extravagant. Stuff like salad, cheese, apple sauce, bananas, peanut butter, etc. I walked out of there with three bags. Granted, there were two bottles of $12 wine in there, too, but that’s about it. My bill? $203.  Not kidding. But this stuff will last all nine days I’m here, and I don’t mind cooking or preparing. I had an Asian Sesame salad the other night, with a chicken breast I baked to perfection. I could easily spend $200 on just four or five dinners out, with Mai Tai’s included of course.

Bath time!

And here’s a random shot of the two guys loving on each other last night. They’re adorable.

And another thing. Not only have I not gone out to eat or to a bar since Mary and I hit the Olympic Cafe after I got here on Sunday night, I have also not turned the TV on. As I told Barb on the phone, “You know how much time we spend watching mindless stuff on television? I’m going full cold turkey. No TV while I’m here.” To be fair, I have streamed a couple of shows I wanted to see, on my laptop, and I’ve followed some sports scores there too, but no TV.

I also entered my nephew Ewan’s March Madness deal. It’s just for fun, no money involved, so I filled my bracket out and was thrilled to see two  upsets come through for me yesterday. Minnesota and Murray State. Then, like about two-thirds of America, I assume, I checked online last night after the evening games were done, and said aloud the word “Wofford?”  Really? Wofford? That pretty much blew up the entire lower right side of my bracket.

Well, that’s about it for today (a day late and after that trip to Safeway still more than a few dollars short.) I’ll take more pics before I leave. Four more nights here, and then I’ll fly overnight to get home. Time for a walk, I think. Or that drive up to Hanalei. I can do both! I’m on Kauai.

And in the spirit of Aloha, if you read today’s installment and thought it deserved a passing grade (even if that’s a C+) please do me a huge favor and click on the “Like” button at the top. Just 3,266 more “Likes” and I can get a free ticket to a luau. Or maybe it was a half-priced Mai Tai. Or a cheap t-shirt. Hard to say.

See you next week. ALOHA!!!

Bob Wilber, at your service and hanging with Maxie and Biscuit.

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