Friday, May 13, 2016

Kauai, Hawaii

It was around noon on Saturday that the idea struck.

Justin was scrolling through various flight times on DeltaNet, checking out which ones were looking fairly open.

"Kauai has 14 open seats," he told me.

Four hours later we were swinging our carry-on bags over each shoulder and racing through the security line at LAX, faces flushed and giddy with excitement.

I had never been to Hawaii. People who have visited always seem unable to rave enough about their experiences. "It's paradise" and "You'll never want to come home" are among some of the things I've heard. I had heard all the islands were wonderful, but that Kauai, the Garden Isle, was something special.

It isn't just special. Its positively dreamy. That evening Justin and I stared out at the darkening sea, tiki torches casting brilliant orange light across our table and our naked toes digging into the sand beneath our table. I sat sipping on the icy sweet tang of a Mai Tai while the scent of pineapple fried rice and mango flatbread drifted across the air.

Justin and I stayed on the East Shore at Kauai Shores. It was nestled right along the beach and housed beach-front dining, two pools, and quick access to the airport. We woke up the next morning to the crowing of roosters and the pale pre-dawn light of an early morning. It was overcast, but we sat sipping coffee and watching the sun rise over the aquamarine waves of the Pacific.

Just driving on Kauai is gorgeous. It is all giant, sharp green peaks, lush tropical flowers, and waddies of kava plants. Distant waterfalls glisten as they cascade from the sides of mountains and the crashing of the sea rarely leaves you. The humid air hugs your skin like a moist kiss and wind flutters continuously, rustling the leafy boughs of palm trees.

Justin and I were a quick drive from Wailua Falls. While most of the hiking paths near the top of the falls were blocked, we still enjoyed gazing at frothing water while around us Kauai chickens clucked and hooted.

One waterfall clearly wasn't enough and Justin and I were eager to explore the famously beautiful Na Pali coast on the North Shore. The drive to the North Shore passes you through Princeville, past Hanalei bay, and over tiny single-car bridges. The road literally ends at Ke'e Beach and the trail to Hanakapiai beach begins.

The trail winds itself along cliff edges, proving stunning views of the Na Pali coast line and ending at the rocky Hanakapiai beach. From there, Justin and I turned in-land and began the rugged hike to Hanakapiai falls. The trail was rigorous, involving river-crossings, muddy uphill terrain, and dense tropical forestry. The entire hike was more than 8 miles round-trip and left us muddy, chilled, and out of breath. But the end was well worth it.

We finished our day watching the sun set from the South Shore. Waves broke against black volcanic rock and seals danced in the frothing tide as the sun dived below the western peaks. Upon returning tot he hotel we eased our aching muscles with a looong hot shower and clam chowder on the beach. My eyes were closing over my bowl and my brain was clouded with swirling images of verdant hills, bright pink spiky flowers, and the taste of falls on my lips.

The next morning Justin and I hit the trails early to make the most of our day. We hiked NouNou Mountain along the Trail of the Sleeping giant. The trail was straight up the mountain and our calves were weeping from our exertions the previous day. On our way we surprised a duo of wild boars, snuffling in the earth and had to wait a few moments for them to run off before continuing our path. But, oh, that summit. Panoramic views of the East Shore, the distant mountain ranges, and the glistening Pacific awaited us.

I was content to spend the next hour with my butt planted in the red, rocky sand while the sea foamed at my ankles. Honestly, standing up to accept sips of wine from Justin was almost too much of an effort. The sun was hot and little island birds dug in the sand around me. Luncheon was at Brennecke's on the South Shore, overlooking Poipu Beach. We dined on roasted pork, seviche, and sashimi and finished off our meal with cups of the classic Hawaiian shaved ice mixed with vanilla icecream.

Waimea Canyon State Park was the last major stop of our day. Known as "the Grand Canyon of the Pacific" Waimea Canyon is 10 miles long and houses spectacular views of the reddish island rock dotted with waterfalls. Justin and I would have loved to hike, but our flight departed that evening and neither of us could muster the energy to do more than climb a few steps at the various look-out points.

It's unspeakably sad to leave such a beautiful place. Kauai truly is a paradise. As I write this I can only contemplate and research for the return trip. When Justin and I returned from our first European trip I thought Versailles to be the pinnacle of beauty and tranquility. When I was having a bad day or treating a particularly poor-tempered patient I would retreat to the azure skies and pristine landscape of Versailles in my mind.

Now, however, my mind has a new happy place. In this place tropical birds call out, the rush of the falls pounds in my ears, and jutting verdant hills tower like pagan gods in the skies. Kauai.


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