Swan jumping over the mountain. Dragon riding the wind. Ship on the sea. The names were flowing into my mind more as a series of images than as an understandable language. My body was locked into a flow of smooth movement, an unceasing torrent of maneuvers that defied comprehension. As each series of movements was revealed to me like the steps of a dance, the accompanying glyph would float across my consciousness. A picture began to form in mind of a Chinese warrior guiding me through the movements. These were not a dance of war, but of balance and harmony. I came to feel that the ancient figure was a previous incarnation of myself, that I was seeing my own memories from long ago. I have no training in the martial arts, yet this was as clear as though an instructor was standing before me, coaching me in an art I had long been practicing.
The ‘weapon’ I was wielding are known as ‘Poi’. They are part of a traditional dance performed by the Polynesians, usually done with fire spun at the ends of ropes. Fire-Spinning has evolved into its own art form today, with troupes of all nationalities performing worldwide. I was learning this art form in a safer fashion, with bean bags attached to strings for weight, and glow sticks attached to these.
It was the dawn of the new millennium, shortly after New Years in the year 2000, on my first visit to Kauai. I was in a trance which lasted for the entire night as I spun the poi and tapped into some knowledge which came from outside of my conscious mind or memory. A group of us were camping at Polihale beach, which is an incredible 17-mile stretch of exposed sandy beach ending at the southern end of the Na Pali coast, a series of impassable cliffs which cover nearly a fifth of the coast of Kauai.
The surf and sand at Polihale are massive, with a huge shore break that only the strongest of surfers and swimmers will brave, and towering sand dunes that could swallow a person. There are the ruins of an ancient Hawaiian temple (called a Heiau) at Polihale which were believed by the ancient Hawaiians to be the jumping off point for departed souls from this life to the next.
After nearly a full night of ‘Poi’ spinning, I felt I had gained some mastery over this art, and had connected with some previously unknown part of myself. I had since progressed to spinning fire, and enjoy the experience in a way that can only be known from firsthand experience. It is an act of purification, of becoming one with the spirit of fire, and of letting go the conscious mind.
Now, over seven years later, we were returning to Polihale on a day trip, on a complete whim. One of the many things that make Polihale special is its relative isolation. Most of the population of Kauai lives on the East and North shores, and it takes well over an hour to get to Polihale from most places on this teeny isle. While this may not seem like much, it bears noting that when your average drive to anything is less than 20 minutes, anything more than a half an hour begins to seem painfully long.
But Polihale presents some challenges before she reveals her beauty. It seems someone in the highways department of Kauai has a cruel sense of humour, or perhaps realizes that anything worth seeing is worth working for. The last 20 kilometers of road is the most washed out, pothole riddled section of road I have ever seen. Dirty, dusty, and bumpy, it will test your conviction and determination to get to this place. Any attempt at conversation while driving on this pneumatic road becomes an incomprehensible series of gibberish.
Theresa attempted something like speech by asking, “Dhoo yhoo thi inkkk wheee shoo ould slo ow ow dow ow n?” Focused on the goal, and the vehicles constant attempts to bounce into the cane fields lining the road, I could only reply, “I I Ifff weeee dri i ive fa aasst en uuufff, we ee ee cannnn cru u uise rii iight tt o oo v err th he bum mmppps!” This theory proved incorrect, and I soon became thankful that it was not our vehicle that was being constantly assaulted from below. I learned after the fact that the car rental companies all have a policy strictly forbidding drivers from taking the road to Polihale. To top it off, tow truck companies refuse to make the journey should your vehicle get stuck or break down. You are on your own, dear traveler, and can only hope that a local with a large truck will feel the spirit of Aloha, Ohana, and altruism, and give you a tow should any vehicular malady strike you.
We arrived shortly before sunset, and the kids begged us never to take that road again. It didn’t do much for their faith in adult-kind and our decision-making faculties when they found out that not only did they have to take that road again within the hour, but that the water at this beach was too dangerous to swim in, and the sand too fine to build anything other than an underwhelming sand hill. The view is something to be reckoned with, with picturesque sandy dunes to the south, and the dramatic beginnings of the Na Pali coast rising to the north. Off in the distance lies the small island of Ni’ihau, a private island owned by the Robinson family, who as far as I know, are not Swiss. They have turned it into a Hawaiian-only island, allowing a few select residents to farm and fish on the island, and uninvited visitors will be quickly turned away. Although this might sound like a paradise of its own, it is a somewhat barren island, mostly forested with stunted trees, and lacking any dramatic scenery.
After eating a modest picnic dinner, and snapping a few photos of the spectacular sunset, we were on the road again, questioning our capacity for rational thought. Trust me; the sunset is worth the drive. Despite that, I have since learned to see pavement in a whole new light.