Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Just another day in Paradise

Ke'e beach on Kauai's north shore
A couple years ago the S.O. and I were sort of kicking around the idea of a trip to Hawaii. He'd spent a few weeks on Oahu back when he was a migrant aircraft mechanic, but I'd never been to the islands. At some point the Younger Daughter decided to coerce us into using her reward points for a week at aWyndham resort on Kauai.

I confess The Garden Island wasn't on the original itinerary. We'd actually put the Big Island at the top of the list. I didn't even know that Kauai existed. If someone had asked me to name the Islands I might have been able to rattle off four and Kauai wasn't one of them (Oahu, Hawaii, Molokai, . . . okay. Three islands). But a little research revealed that Kauai had its charms. No National parks but lots of state ones. Amazing beaches. Botanical gardens. Plus all the usual Hawaiian tourist attractions like luaus, helicopter tours, guided snorkeling trips, none of which have ever made a list of things I'd actually want to do. Heights terrify me, I can't swim, and we're too damn cheap to pay $100 each for an all you can eat buffet even if it includes unlimited mai tais and hula dancers playing with fire. So it was going to be beaches, botanical gardens, and some hiking. Oh, and the Kilauea lighthouse.

Kilauea Lighthouse. When it was built, there was no road access.
The light station is now part of a National Wildlife Refuge. Right after we got to the resort we attended an orientation session that included information on local attractions, warnings about being careful at the beaches (pay attention to the lifeguards, don't swim unless there is a lifeguard, etc.), and sales pitches from people trying to sell us on the idea of helicopter tours or high dollar luaus. That's when we got told that supposedly there was an albatross rookery that the public wass actually allowed to get close to, which is definitely not the norm. Usually when birds are nesting there's a huge buffer zone between them and gawkers. The info about the rookery turned out to be tour operator hype -- you need binoculars to see the birds' nesting area -- but it was interesting seeing the lighthouse. That sucker has a humongous Fresnel lens of a type I'd never seen before: a clamshell.
Nene geese

But, speaking of birds, if I recall correctly, the state bird of Hawaii is the nene goose. The goose is endangered. I find myself thinking that they got it wrong. The state bird should be the chicken. Feral chickens are every where. I started drafting this while we were still on Kauai. As I tried typing, kind of experimenting with doing a blog post using the smart phone, I was being serenaded by multiple roosters. Yesterday I heard an odd noise right outside the door. Turned out to be a hen with four or five half grown chicks. We went looking for a Kmart Sunday afternoon. Turned out to be part of a good sized shopping center. We had lunch in the food court. The chickens outnumbered the pigeons.

One of several roosters in the parking area for Ke'e beach
We were staying at a nice resort -- Wyndham's Ka eo Kai in Princeville -- but there were chickens wandering around there. There were chickens near the airport, chickens wandering the right of way along the highway, chickens at the beaches, chickens in the state parks. Every time we stopped at a scenic overlook for  Waimea Canyon there were chickens. Occasionally there were signs up reminding people not to feed the feral chickens or cats, but not often.

I have to say that for feral birds they were remarkably good looking chickens. Chickens apparently found an ecological niche to exploit in the Islands after arriving with the Polynesians a millennia or two ago and are thriving despite the cats and rats that must dine on eggs and chicks. I'm guessing those two predators are what keep chicken numbers low enough that although the chickens are numerous, they haven't totally overrun the Islands. I never saw a hen with more than 2 or 3 chicks at the most, and I know chickens are capable of having much bigger broods than that.

Sleeping Giant (aka Nounou Mountain)
So how was our brief expedition to Kauai in general? Not bad. The scenery was spectacular, of course. That's a given when you go to Hawaii -- all those volcanic peaks make for some dramatic backdrops, which is why the Islands have long been popular with filmmakers. The north shore of Kauai shows up in the film "South Pacific" as they approach Bali Hai, and one of the more dramatic waterfalls and the Na Pali coast (also the north shore) are highlighted in "Jurassic Park." The opening sequence for "Fantasy Island" included a shot of waterfalls on Kauai. The north and east sides of the island are the windward sides so get huge amounts of rain (the wettest spot on earth is supposedly on Kauai); there's a lot of lush tropical growth. When you drive south and west, things turn drier. You go from rain forest to cactus in just a few miles.

The resort we stayed at was one of the older ones in Princeville. According to Wikipedia, up until the 1960s, the area was a cattle ranch. In 1968 it was sold for development and became a planned community of condominiums, upscale resorts, and definitely not cheap single family homes. And golf courses. Lots of golf courses. The resort we stayed at, Ka eo Kai, was originally named The Ranch. I'm guessing, based on construction style and general layout, that it was built in the 1980s. It's been updated and is quite nice, but you can tell it's Not New. The unit we stayed in, for example, was a studio. I'd be willing to be that when the resort was built, the designers planned the square footage based on full-size beds being used in the bedrooms. When they updated, times having definitely changed in what people's expectations are, they put in a queen. The square footage didn't change, though, so the end result was a room that now felt a bit on the small side considering what  the average cost per night runs. On the other hand, the bathroom was humongous -- I think we could have parked the Guppy in there.

We did sample some local cuisine. The S.O. tried the loco moko, which involves two hamburger patties, two eggs fried sunny side up, and gravy. It looked odd, but he said it wasn't bad. It must have been edible -- he ate all of it. It's apparently popular -- we noticed most of the patronized by the locals eateries had it on the menu. I was curious about the saiman with spam (another item that was on a lot of menus) but ran out of time. Spam is popular in Hawaii, possibly because it's comparatively cheap, and saiman (a noodle soup) even more so. I did not know so many varieties of Spam existed until we shopped at the Princeville Foodland. And it was such a good price on Spam (it was one of the few cheap grocery items I spotted) that I came really close to buying a few cans to bring home. (Money saving tip for anyone traveling to Hawaii: Foodland will give you the sales prices without you having their shopping club card if you just give them your phone number. You don't need to sign up for the actual card unless you plan on being there long enough that you actually want the various other perks that come with it.)

One thing that struck me while we were in Hawaii, given the recent election results and some of the truly vile racist stuff that's emerged while President Obama has been in office, was that Hawaiian society encapsulates everything racist whites fear. The population is incredibly diverse, whites are a minority, and the overall attitude is laid back and very much "live and let live." No wonder so many of them insisted President Obama wasn't a U.S. citizen. To them, Hawaii would indeed feel like a foreign country.


  1. Pretty place but I still have no desire to go there. I don't want to go anywhere that requires getting in an airplane.

  2. I don't enjoy flying much any more myself, not since most aircraft turned into the cattle cars of the skies. The airlines keep trying to pack more bodies on to the planes so the rows are ridiculously close together and seat width has shrunk. I flew a lot when I worked for the Park Service and figured out the trips I enjoyed the most were the ones that put me into puddle jumpers like Metros and Shorts, the really small commuter aircraft that still have propellors. Metros are great. Every seat is both a window seat and an aisle seat. Of course, having an aisle seat isn't much of a perk when the plane is so small that if you have to relieve yourself you're going to be doing it into the air sick bag. I do worry some about mechanical issues because pay for air craft mechanics has been stagnant for decades. The S.O. interviewed with U.S. Air back in 1980. The starting wage then was about the same as it is now over 30 years later. You're not going to get the best and the brightest turning wrenches on aircraft when they can make more money working at the local Jiffy Lube.

  3. the only other island we visited when we lived in Hawaii in the 50's was was damn near deserted..but beautiful..I miss it..seems my most happy memories are from when I lived there.and's like a Hawaiian staple.

  4. Three inches of snow today in western Maine
    the Ol'Buzzard

  5. Thanks for the travelogue. It is a place I am very unlikely to ever visit so nice to view it second hand.


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