Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Eat, Pray, Itch

After my brief criticism of folks who don't consider the cultural norms and social mores of places they visit, I managed to put my foot in my mouth today while in the lotus position.

But I get ahead of myself.

The boat tour of the Na Pali coast was to be the highlight of this trip.  (If it does, indeed, beat the amazing sights I've already seen, I'm really going to be impressed.)  I'd hoped to do this first but I didn't pre-book* so I had to settle for a trip on Monday, two days before my flight home.

After several calls and confirmation e mails, the tour company contacted me last minute to say they "forgot" that the entire boat had been booked by one party and there was no room for me.

Hmmmm.....   I suspect that one of the rich and famous who are fortunate enough to populate this island made them some kind of last minute offer they couldn't refuse.  Since Ben Stiller, Pierce Brosnan, Michael Crichton, Natalie Merchant, and Bette Midler all own homes in Kauai, this is not an impossibility.  Word has it that Mark Zuckerberg recently purchased as well.  Sigh.  No wonder I can't afford a shack on this island.

But I digress.

I was re-booked for Tuesday with a discount that assuaged my indignance.  But this change of plans left me with a free Monday. 

Enter Kerry.  A gal from North Carolina working her last day at Orchid Alley, a store in Kapaa that I visited on Sunday.

Kerry suggested that I visit the Hindu temple and monastery nearby, touting it's lush gardens and idyllic setting.  Checking it out online, the temple's website emphasized that parking was limited so, very early this morning, I set out along the back roads of Kauai with my trusty GPS**, arriving nearly an hour before opening.

The entrance was paradisaic.  Imagine every tropical house plant you've ever fussed over - philodendron, bromeliads, croton, pilea, orchids, etc.  Now imagine them on steroids.  The monks have tended the garden with an eye for design and color.  Hibiscus, ginger, anthurium, and more were arranged and orchestrated into a garden that sings to the eyes.

At the entrance is a six-sided gazebo where you may wait for the monks to open the gate - the latter wrought with lotus leaves and framed by a carved arch. Inside the gazebo sits a rose granite cauldron.  A sign on one of the support posts encourages you to write your challenges, confessions, and problems on a slip of paper and burn it in the cauldron.  A nearby plastic container provides all you need for this purpose.

I haven't been thinking of problems during my visit to this over-the-top beautiful island, but I found myself tearing up as I wrote down some concerns I have for our planet and my place in it. 

Soon, however, I had a more visceral problem.  It rained last night.  And I forgot the bug spray.  In the moist, dense air, with no one else in sight, I was the only show in town for hordes of mosquitoes. 

Mosquitoes love me anyway.  I think it's all the pasta sauce.  I've always felt they drank my blood thinking "Mmm!  Marinara!".  Whatever the attraction, I had to take shelter in the car.

At nine, I was surprised to see the gate opened by a female volunteer dressed in a sari (the monastery is all male).  It was time for puja, the Hindu worship service, and I could choose to join or miss seeing the temple interior.

A side note:  I took so may courses in eastern religion in college that I graduated a semester late.  I know about dharma, karma, moksha and reincarnation.   I've been in numerous Hindu temples in my travels.   

But I've never been to a Hindu service.

My son has tried to get me to meditate numerous times, but I stink at quiet.  My mental wheels are in perpetual motion.  But how could I refuse the opportunity to attend a peaceful Hindu service in such mystical surroundings?  Surely even I would find some enlightenment on the meditative process. Especially during a service that was going to last - gasp! - an hour and a half.

When I read Eat, Pray, Love, I chuckled at Elizabeth Gilbert's cramping from maintaining the lotus position, a posture that has always been easy for me.  But how was I going to fare for an hour and a half?   Was I going to be humbled in my smug flexibility?  

But I was not under the auspices of a guru's discipline and, observing some of the early devotees inside the temple, I noted more fidgeting than my bum knee was going to cause.  I felt confident that I would be inconspicuous despite my lack of experience.  After all, when you go to a new church you just follow what everyone else is doing, right?

The guru who was leading the prayers inside the sanctum had a wonderful, rich, hypnotic voice.  I was immediately happy that I'd decided to attend.  The symmetry and muted light of the room with its gleaming, black marble columns, side altars to Ganesha and Lord Karttikeya, and glowing crystal lingam in the center before the sanctum, put me in a relaxed state of awe and wonder.   The right and left walls of the room boasted three long shelves each, upon which rested 108 gold statues of Siva in various poses.  I was able to count and multiply to arrive at their number but it was impossible to be discreet about examining them to determine if any of their positions were repeated.  I doubted it and, considering the various contortions that a four-armed deity is capable of, I could easily see why Siva is Lord of the Dance. 

Everything went well for the first ten minutes or so.  Until I became aware that a mosquito had bitten the bottom of my foot.

If meditation is focus, then I was mediating on the burning, itching sensation emanating from my sole.   This was not the soul I'd hoped to inspire but, suddenly, the entire world was the bottom of my foot. The bottom of my foot was the Blue Light, it was the eighth chakra, it was the fiery red heart of a lotus blossom.  I wanted to scream. 

My mind raced.  I'm in a temple.  Is it inappropriate to touch my foot?  Is it considered disrespectful to the devas?  Crap!  I don't want to scratch my foot in public ANYWHERE.


As if the gods had answered my cry, the man in front of me started to play with his toes.  Only briefly, but enough to give me leave to scratch the hideous irritation that emanated from the welt on my sole.

This was not, however, to be my only conundrum.

After the guru finished chanting, he closed the sanctum curtains.  There were more songs and chants.  The curtain reopened.  He chanted and sang again.  And then - oh, no! - he came down from the sanctum with a container and offered it to the devotees.

Here it might be appropriate to tell you how SHORT I am.  The "follow what the guy in front of you is doing" method of not embarrassing yourself does not work if you can't see over that guy's shoulder.  Seriously, despite the long line of people in front of me, I had no idea what was going on.

When the monk reached me, I saw he was spooning out some sort of material.  I offered my hands and received a white, chalky substance.  I stalled, turned around to the guy behind me, and followed his lead.


No.  Relief was not yet in sight.  The monk returned from the altar THREE MORE TIMES with other liquids and substances.  Fie on my college professors!  All theory; no practice! Why had I never been required to go to a temple for a class assignment?  What was I supposed to do with this sweet smelling liquid?  What was this ochre colored paste for?  How much of this red stuff do I take?


I clumsily accepted the gifts and did my best.

Afterwards, I had a long conversation with the volunteer and learned more about the service, the purpose of the gifts, and the meaning of the chants and prayers.  

Hopefully, there will be other chances to visit this mystical space and redeem myself, other chances to see my beautiful Kauai.

And that was part of the prayer I offered in the temple when I followed the lead of others who were writing their petitions.

I got that part right.

View of the Wailua River and falls on the right from the back of the monastery.  This doesn't begin to demonstrate the scope.  I will zoom in on this photo hundreds of times in the future.

Monastery pond.

Absolutely magical meditation spot under and within a massive banyan tree.

*Note to Kauai travelers:  Book tours ahead.
** Note to travelers in general: You can often save money by renting a more simply appointed car if you bring your own GPS.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Culture, King Kamehameha, and the REAL Khal Drogo...

I've always approached travel with an anthropological perspective.  Of course I enjoy many of the tourist attractions.  After all, typically, they are remarkable experiences and fascinating sights that stand out about the destination.  But I also enjoy experiencing things from a local perspective.  I want to see what people eat, how they worship, how they live their everyday lives. I've never been a big fan of resorts because they are too isolating.  And I've never understood the traveler who needs to have the comfort level of  "just like home".  To my mind, traveling this way misses the point.  Travel is supposed to broaden a person, and I don't mean the waistline from eating "foreign" McDonald's meals.

Likewise, travelers who make no effort to understand or participate in local culture are irksome to me. Here in Kauai, a woman made fun of the local street names, even though there are any number of free publications scattered in news bins all over the island that contain pronunciation keys.  Another woman bitched to me about being asked to pay an admission for the Kauai museum. 

If the reluctant museum goer had paid the measly $6 entrance fee, she might have watched the video about the Hawaiian people and seen their love for their land, their generous spirit, their respect for and cooperation with nature.  She might have learned how this respect was undermined - and is undermined to this day - by an accession that was largely forced by American and European businessmen who had money and sugar on their minds, not ancient Hawaiian traditions.

The Hawaiians I met struck me as good, proud Americans.  If there is any bitterness over the overthrow of the monarchy so long ago, it isn't evident.

But they haven't forgotten their history

King Kamehameha, (b. circa 1736), united the Hawaiian islands and formally established the Kingdom of Hawi'i in 1810. 

By developing alliances with the major Pacific colonial powers, he preserved Hawaiʻi's independence.  King Kamehameha Day is commemorated yearly in his honor, and I felt fortunate to be in town for this event.

The festivities - a parade, crafts, food, and entertainment -  started at nine in Lihue, about an hour's drive from the condo where I was staying.

I got up at the crack of dawn, worried about getting a parking space and a good vantage point.  I forgot about "island time".  I was sitting in the shade waiting for over an hour before the parade began.

The main focus of the event was Hawaiian royalty.  The honorary princesses of each island, preceded by a page with a banner announcing their provenance, passed on flower-bedecked horses.  The Big Island; Mau; Kaho'olawe; Lanai; Molokai; Oahu; Kauai; and Ni'ihau were all represented.  In between, various civic and community organizations passed by, in cars, jeeps, pick ups and ATVs festooned with flowers, .

The Princess of Oahu
The feel was definitely hometown; people clapped, cheered, and waved to their neighbors. No oversized balloons, and only two or three attractions that might actually be termed "floats".  Certainly not the extravaganza the Macy's parade is every year, but it was wonderful in the way it showcased Hawaiian pride. 

Without a doubt, the crowd-pleasing favorite was the appearance of "King Kamehameha" himself.   Feather torches, flowers, leaves, hula girls, a royal court - Kamehameha definitely got the royal treatment.

Plus, the guys - in their traditional Hawaiian malo (loincloths) - were hunky.

After the parade, I perused the stands to choose lunch.  Lau lau (pork cooked in taro leaves), chicken teriyaki, chicken long rice (a noodle dish), poke (a fish salad similar to ceviche), and other dishes were available.  Marlene from Da Imu Hut, a restauranteur I'd met during the week, recognized me when I decided to purchase at her booth. We had a brief discussion about her amazing berry cheese pie. I felt like a local.

And then, to top off the day, I got to take a picture with the King himself.

As you know, I've been traveling with a plastic doll with tribal tattoos modeled after a Hawaiian actor.  

This was SOOOOOO much better.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Waimea Canyon

Waimea Canyon.  Urban legend has it that Mark Twain called it the "Grand Canyon of the Pacifc". Unfortunately, Twain never visited Kauai. 

But I did.  Up at my usual five am.  Jet lag?  Excitement?  No AC in the condo?  You pick.  I'm never up that early at home and, if I'm on that time frame when I return, I'll be sleeping in until one in the afternoon every day.

I was out the door for the long ride by seven and arrived at the entrance to the canyon by a bit after eight.  Missed the turn initially because I was talking to a real estate agent about the cost of property in Kauai.  I think I was in shock.  A $60K leasehold with fees of around $1700 a month?  A one bedroom studio for $369K?  Not happening unless Publisher's Clearing House knocks on this girl's door.

Once I found the road, I began the circuitous ascent in my trusty little rental car (nicknamed "Old Betsy") that immediately reminded me why folks rent four wheels out here.  It did not gracefully ascend.  It chugged.  But I dealt with it.

The difficulty presented itself in the numerous stops I made. There seemed to be a vista or sight every few minutes, and I wasn't going to miss one no matter how the vehicle complained about starting up the mountain again.

The next photo is just a taste of the canyon; it does not begin to give a true perspective on the vastness of this place. 

Lets try this next one where you can see the teeny-tiny people at the top of the waterfall.  If you are standing there with the sound of the birds and the power of the water rushing down...


and into an undercut that causes the it to disappear into the earth....

The water thunders here as it disappears.  All I could think of was where I might wind up if I fell in.'s absolutely awe-inspiring.

Don't ask how long the drive is to the last scenic view because I stopped so long at every one of them that it took me hours.

I stopped at scenes like this....

....and hiked up hills like this....

....for views like this.

I am in love with this island from the mountains, to the valleys, to the oceans white with foam.

Sorry, didn't mean to plagiarize but - God bless Kauai!  If that real estate agent can work some magic, it just might be home, sweet home.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Meet Larry Rivera....

A considerable number  of movies filmed have been filmed on Kauai - Jurassic Park, Tropic Thunder, South Pacific, just to name a few.  Since I'm somewhat of a movie buff, and since my Kauai trip was inspired by a childhood viewing of South Pacific, it was only appropriate to choose an island movie tour for the corny-tourist portion of my trip.

As we neared one of our last stops, the Coco Palms Hotel, the tour guide told us there was special surprise waiting for us there.

The Coco Palms has a long and fascinating history - from sacred ground owned by Hawaiian royalty, to popular hotel for the rich and famous, to a mismanaged venue abandoned after hurricane Iniki.  I had to sign a waiver to visit the place since its current state of disrepair poses some dangers.  Just to be able to walk there was special.

When we arrived, we were greeted by an older gentleman in a Hawaiian shirt carrying a ukulele.

Meet Larry Rivera, one of Kauai's treasures.  Larry worked for sixty-four years at the Coco Palms, announcing its famous torch-lighting ceremony (the original that was copied by the other island hotels) and performing his own songs nightly.  He appeared in Blue Hawaii with Elvis.  He is of Hawaiian, Spanish, and Filipino origin.  He has six children, seventeen grandchildren, eighteen great-grandchildren, and he can name ALL of them in under a minute.

Larry is still performing two shows weekly, plus stops at local markets and the Coco Palms.  In a former life, I sang professionally for over twenty years, so this really impressed me because HE IS EIGHTY-FIVE YEARS OLD!

You may not have heard of him, but I'd much rather be standing with Larry than Kanye.
Larry was warm, funny, and sweet as he told us his story and sang a song he wrote about Mount Waialeale.  Shrouded in clouds, this central peak is part of a blown out caldera.  Waialeale is one of the world’s wettest spots, streaming with waterfalls. It is also inaccessible. If yours truly wasn't so chicken (and cheap) when it comes to flying in a helicopter (the only way to see it), I might have been able to tell you about its beauty first hand.  But I felt that Larry's song, sung at the edge of a lagoon that's protected to this day by its rich Hawaiian history as a sacred spot, told me everything I needed to know about this magical place.

To hear this eighty-five year old patriarch sing with so much love for his island was truly the highlight of the tour.

Larry was a true inspiration.  I may take up singing again.

 See Larry singing at the lagoon on YouTube:

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Food Fight!

When I travel, I'll often find a library, a craft fair, or a street fair.  It's a great way to meet people and get tips about bargains and places to eat.  Here in Kauai, a free local paper tipped me off to the weekly farmer's markets on the island and, since I had time at the end of my day, I decided to hit one.

I arrived right before it was supposed to close.  The lot and most of the vendor's tables were empty.  Figuring I'd have less than twenty minutes to peruse what was left, I rushed into the lot, only to be stopped by a husky security guard who told me to wait by the curb because it wasn't open yet.

So much for accurate island journalism.

Three women were already sitting on the curb, conversing rapidly in Hawaiian.  I was encouraged by the lack of a crowd.  But within ten minutes it looked more like Macy's during the Christmas holidays.

As opening time approached, a woman came to warn the crowd about running, pushing, shoving, and taking care with children and the elderly.  I braced myself for Black Friday with mangoes.

When the whistle blew I realized that my laid-back vacation mode was going to put me at a disadvantage vis-a-vis produce.  There were so many unfamiliar varieties to gawk at, so many appealing colors and textures.  "Can I take a photo of your vegetables?" was a sentence that often followed my polite greetings.


And the tables were indeed crowded.  My dawdling meant I missed some of the choicest selections.  My stash consisted of soursop, mountain apples, tomatoes, passion fruit,  finger-sized eggplants, sweet onions, lychee, wormy squash blossoms (I did not know they were wormy), and wing beans.  

 Really, would you have guessed those squash blossoms were wormy?
The seaweed-y things on the right are the wing beans. (I thought they looked a bit prehistoric and fit the Jurassic Park feel here.)   I threw them in the with the eggplant, onions, and greenish tomatoes for a makeshift ratatouille.

I cooked the squash blossoms after a thorough cleaning.  An old, tasty family recipe.  Still, I could not forget the worms that had died a watery death in my sink.  I had to remind myself with every squeamish mouthful that I'd boiled the blossoms first and that worms are a protein staple in many places.

As for the rest, the apples were unripe,  the sour sop was (surprise!) sour, and the passion fruits incited puckering, not passion.

The lychee, however, were more than worth fighting for.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Advice from the road...

I got in so late on Sunday that I drove to the North Shore in blackness.  The irony is that the North Shore of Kauai is the wealthy side of the island, yet they have no street lamps.  It was so dark that I barely found my turn off.  So you can imagine my surprise when I woke up in the morning to find THIS out my front door:

Yeah.  I felt like I had awakened in Jurassic Park.

Motivated to see more of what I'd missed in the blackness, I was out the door before seven a.m. and on my way to find Tunnels Beach, Bali H'ai, and the Kalalau Trail.

My guidebook had warned me that people post "No Trespassing.  Private Property." signs to all the side roads leading to the beach, whether the road was private or not.  I don't know whether I would have risked ignoring any of those signs since the roads where they were posted were already filled with law breakers by the time I'd stopped for breakfast.  I found one road that was unmarked. It had one squeezy space left - filled by a cart full of scuba supplies.  I waited patiently while the divers put suits on, figuring they'd wheel the cart down the path and finish at the shore.  When they went for their BCDs, I knew it was time to back up down the long lane (the only way to get out), and try another tack.

It was a fairly long walk across a stream and down the beach in thick, sinking sand and areas of tiny, pedicure-callous-removal shell bits, but I parked my car down the road so I could realize my dream of seeing this:

It may just look like another tropical beach scene to you, but this was my childhood vision of Bali H'ai.  Did I sing the theme song as I've always promised?  By the time I had slogged across the sand in the steamy, mid-morning heat I didn't have enough breath left to belt it out.

OK.  Let's be real.  I chickened out because there were way too many people around.  I sang it softly to myself.  It made me just as happy, like my little, private song.

After this I was off to find the Kalalau Trail. 

There is a "parking lot" at the head of the trail.  Picture the parking lot for the Renaissance Faire on the only sunny day in a wet summer.  Now add boulders.  I kid you not.  I was almost sorry I'd gotten a gas-saving, mid-sized rental instead of a Jeep.  One shock-breaking go round and I was out of there.

All along the road, cars were parked on either side.  I managed to get a spot some distance from the trail head and got out.  As I walked, I think I passed two couples who were older than their thirties.  This did not bode well.

I saw a young girl returning from the trail, carrying a pack and a look of exhaustion.  Her gear looked like it weighed more than she did.  When I said hello she breathed a reply that sounded more like an exhalation than a word.   I felt sorry for her.  If this was what the trail did to a vital young person...hmmm.

A few distracting photo ops later, I was heading back for my car, deciding to return very early another day for a cooler, more prepared, and possibly closer start.

On my way back, I saw the same girl hitch-hiking along the road.

I was once young and nuts.  Well, more nuts.  I hitch-hiked all over California in my hippy days.  I hitch-hiked in Europe with my ex.  But now the mother in me said: "What the %$&$% is she doing?" and picked her up.

When I told her that I was going to try the first two miles of the trail.  Her reply was:  "The first two miles of the trail SUCK.  It's all uphill followed by all down hill.  It's the worst part of the trail."

Thanks for the advice, Alicia from Seattle.  It was fun talking with you!  Here's to both of us having more safe adventures!

Monday, June 8, 2015

Traveling with Khal Drogo...

A few weeks ago my son asked me what I'd like for my trip to Kauai.  I jokingly requested a companion: "I'd like you to get me Khal Drogo.  I love those husky, tattooed Samoan guys."

Ok, for the three of you who do NOT watch Game of Thrones, Khal Drogo is the chieftain of a desert tribe called the Dothraki.   He's played by Jason Momoa, a young, half-Hawaiian actor who is just as yummy as any chocolate-covered macadamia nut you might find in these islands.   Here he is as Conan the Barbarian.

Jason Momoa as Conan, making an angry face?  Honestly, were you looking at his face?
Here is Jason as Khal Drogo.  He's really got that angry look down.

Still not looking at his face.
 So my son, being the loving geek that he is, went out and bought me this:

 One of Khal Drogo's swords was damaged in a great battle with the TSA as they searched through this dangerous retired teacher's luggage for God-knows-what.  (I suppose some of my undies might be classified as dangerous, but not to national security.)

Sorry.  Maybe that was TMI.

At any rate, Khal and I have arrived in beautiful Kauai and I will be photographing us on some of our adventures.  Hope you'll be following me for more travel pics and tales!

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Almost Ready for the Road...Again

Off to Kauai this time.  The snorkel gear is in the luggage as well as a rolled up neoprene wetsuit for snorkeling.

A wetsuit?  For snorkeling?  Yes, because I am allergic to sunscreens and cool temps.  A skin could work for sun protection but, warm as Hawaii is, the ocean can surprise you with a chilly spot even on the hottest of days. Neoprene handles both problems.

Snorkeling in Roatan, Honduras.
The reason why I snorkel.
A friend was supposed to meet me in Kauai.  Job pressures prevented that, so this trip is solo.  That kind of puts the kibosh on hiking the Kalalau Trail.  Even I know that my two iffy knees are not going on an eleven mile trek on one of the ten most dangerous trails in the world, but I was hoping to do the first mile or so with a companion.  

To illustrate the dangers involved, here's a section called Space Rock.

Yeah, definitely not something to try alone. Or maybe not even without the Hawaiian equivalent of several sherpas.

So, rest easy, I am in no danger of being swept away by a flash flood or plummeting hundreds of feet into a gorge from a slip on a muddy, ten inch wide path. 

Besides hiking - somewhere else - I'll likely be taking a ride on a helicopter.  It's going to put a dent in my budget, but my cousin, Roseanne, told me I'd regret it to my grave if I didn't do it.  Her family went up when they were in Hawaii; she stayed behind.  And it is upon her own regrets that she projected mine.  I'm taking her advice.

Based on my own prior experiences in Hawaii, I know that my budget is in as much danger from eating as it will be from flying a helicopter.  Food is expensive in Hawaii.  My luggage includes five vacuum packages of tuna, a jar of peanut butter, a jar of jam, and two boxes of organic mac and cheese dinner. 

I think I've got it covered.