Wheels

Our arrival in Kauai quickly challenged our quaint notions of travelling without plans or itinerary.  If you make plans, you must be able to allow them to bend or change at any given moment.  If you don’t make plans, you may end up in a situation with less than ideal outcomes, at the whim of fate.  Somewhere in the middle lies the path.  We were learning this the hard way.

What meager plan we did have was simple; rent a car, stay with friends, do some beach camping, and maybe rent a house, go where the flow of life took us.  Sometimes foresight is a wonderful thing, though, and we discovered that the day before Valentines Day is not a good day to show up unannounced at the airport car rental counter on the island that inspired several love songs by Elvis.

I was able to find one car rental company that actually had some vehicles left, which turned out to be either Minivans (not too popular with the jet setting lovers), or Jeeps.  Now as fun as a Jeep may sound on an island with plenty of back country roads, 100 dollars per day is not fun when you want to rent for a whole month.  Thankfully, due to our local connections, We were able to get an ‘Ohana’ (family) discount on a month long rental of a minivan, and for $1500, we figured it could be our home as well.  That was more than we had been paying for our mortgage, and almost as much as we had paid for any car we had owned.  At that price, it had better be dual purpose.  We looked forward to exploring the numerous beaches of Kauai, living as modern nomads, testing our mettle against the elements.  A quick trip to Kmart, and we had most of the basic camping supplies we needed.

We had arranged to spend our first night on the island at the house of Cyrus’s Uncle Peter.  (Some names have been changed to protect the innocent.  Not that anyone was innocent in this situation, but I don’t very well need a lawsuit on my hands, do I?  Thus I can protest my innocence.  See what I did there?)  Peter was very accommodating over the phone, and was excited to be seeing his Nephew again.  We were grateful to have a place to orient and re-acquaint ourselves with Kauai.  Peter’s house was in Hanalei Bay, which is the jewel of the North Shore, and indeed one of the jewels of the Hawaiian Islands.  There are few places that we would rather end up, and anyone who has been there could attest to the reasons why.

The road from Lihue to Hanalei takes you through some stunning scenery, but much of the drive is surprisingly ordinary.  After an hour of drinking in the verdant views and abundant tropical fauna, you arrive at Princeville, which appears to have been designed as an extension of the golf course that shares its name.  Suddenly you find yourself descending a narrow cliff side road with several hairpin turns and a postcard view of a long valley with multi-hued taro fields.  With no warning, you make a sudden stop to get in line for the crossing of a one lane bridge.  There is an unspoken rule of etiquette on these bridges, which are the norm for the next 12 km of river crossings, where you wait for all the cars coming in the opposite direction to pass before you proceed.   Thankfully there isn’t a lot a traffic coming in and out of Hanalei, as this is the only road.

A short drive through a series of Taro patches takes you to the village of Hanalei, which boasts fine dining, fish markets, and health food stores alongside surf shops, clothing stores, and the odd car held together with bungee cords and duct-tape.  Hippies and surf-bums rub shoulders with the world’s wealthy elite, and somehow, the ocean and the waves put everyone on an equal footing.  Some people of fame take up residence there, including Steven Stills, Michael Crichton, and Pierce Brosnan.

When you drive out to the bay itself, the vast curvature encircles you like a pair of arms embracing you in a warm wet hug.  The surfing is choice in Hanalei, with breaks for all styles and skill levels.  Steep mountains festooned with waterfalls rise up behind the bay, creating a serene backdrop for the white sand beaches.  The occasional rain shower does little to quell the beauty or tranquility that can be found there.

Uncle Peter had let us know ahead of time that his place was a little hectic, sort of a commune, and that we were welcome to stay for as little or as long as we wanted, and contribute whatever we felt was appropriate.  We know that he would have been very glad to greet us, had he been there, but one of his housemates, Francis, was more than happy to show us around.  The fact that Francis’ room was the carport should have tipped us off to something, but hey, Hawaii is the land of eternal camping.  A solid roof over your head was more than you really needed.

Violet soon got a special treat, as the resident house cat soon revealed her litter of kittens to us.  Among the many obsessions Violet has, animals, especially cats, rank high.  After being taught the proper technique for holding a kitten (i.e. not throttling it around the neck), Violet entered a state of feline bliss for the rest of the evening being smothered by a puddle of kittens that seemed to adore her as much as she adored them.

It didn’t take long to realize that there wasn’t much room for us, unless we wanted to crash on the kitchen floor with some other transients.  The eternal flood in the bathroom and the holes in the shower floor were also somewhat at odds with our basic concepts of safety and sanitation.  We were grateful to Peter for opening his place to us, but weren’t sure if it suited our comfort level with two children in tow.  We set up our tent, and converted the back of our van into a sleeping space, and went to bed.

We rose early, as the sun and sound of surfers motoring out to catch the first waves signaled our time to awake.  The kittens had the same idea, and were busy frolicking about the yard.  At one point, we noticed that they were all converging on something.  A catnip chew toy, perhaps?  Or maybe… yes, it appeared to a giant dead rat.  A dreadlocked straggly looking fellow we hadn’t met the night before commented “Oh good, they finally caught that.  It’s been hanging around for ages,” which seemed like an appropriate response to the discovery, but the follow up action of disposing of the rat was not a going concern.

Also of no concern was the resident baby who decided that kittens that played with rats were fun to chew on.  The kittens also seemed to feel this was normal behavior, and allowed the tyke to shove any of their body parts in its mouth.  This was the same baby I had observed toddling around earlier with a sharp kitchen knife while the parents watched with bemused admiration.  It became all to clear that our notions of health and safety didn’t quite blend with those of the tenants of the house, and decided that we should seek alternate accommodation before someone caught the plague from a knife-wielding rat-chewing baby.  Being as we had spent our allotted housing funds on our vehicle, that left us with one choice, beach camping.  But which beach to go to?  There were, after all, so many to choose from.  Our first world problem was resolved with the decision to head for the tranquility of nearby Anini Beach.

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