Friday, October 14, 2011

Traveler, Be Brave (Carolann's Story)

(This and other stories by Carolann can be found at Maturetraveler)
We're transiting to Kauai, the first island north of Oahu. The flight is hardly one hour from Honolulu and I look out the window onto the sea and wonder how the Polynesians crossed these waters in an outrigger canoe. Such bravery.

We've been in Hawaii now for five days and I'm discovering that it does indeed live up to its reputation for tropical beauty. Kauai is not over-developed, nor is its capital, Lihue, frantic or commercial. For this menopausal traveler, I'm delighted to find a place that actually doesn't annoy me.

We converted our timeshare property through the international RCI program in order to book into the Wyndham Bali Hai Resort in Princeville. This north part of the island of Kauai is the "rainy" side since the trade winds catch on the mountain peaks and drop their load, especially in the winter months (Jan/Feb) but it can happen any time. Golf courses love it. Tourists put up with it.

Development has come late to this part of the island and the resorts are generally new and frequently time-shares. Though the rain so far has been a mere sun shower, when it came, we just picked up and drove thirty minutes southeast for the sunshine of Ka'paa.

The Wyndham Bali Hai property is fast becoming our best time share experience. There's no hard-sell by the office, just a smiling invitation to an "orientation" breakfast the next morning and a quick retreat upon its decline. Since I'm schooled on the pressure one gets in Mexico at a time-share, I instinctively show my teeth and spit "no"; my body language adds, "back-off". Dan tugs on my shoulder bag and calms me. He understands that I may still need more time to unwind. He's hoping that menopause will go away in Hawaii.  

The resort is tucked into a richly landscaped residential community abutting a golf course, which in turn, is back-dropped by the mountains. There are two swimming pools within the complex and each one has a patio area with multiple propane BBQs for our use. Artfully placed waterfalls muffle driveway noise and reinforce the Hawaii brand. Most of the guests, like ourselves, are mature travelers; it's quiet at night.

There's a paved walking path along the single-lane road that sees moderate traffic during the day. We walked a few kilometres one morning to where it ends at the gracious St. Regis Resort (see below). Along the way there are stunning ocean views. We're high up on the cliff. With so many attractive hibiscus in flower and red-crested cardinals along the route, we were out two hours without noticing.

Each day we explore more of the coastal road which tunnels through woods of monkey paw tress and we want to stop and put this on film, but it's impossible. The road is narrow and winding with no place to stop. Then we emerge into the sun and it's behind us. The open sea cliffs lie ahead flanked by soaring green mountains.

It's been five days since we arrived on Kauai. Perhaps after much complex and intense planning to support seven months of travel, I'm unwinding like the coastal road. The signs tell drivers to slow down, and they do. Day by day, I can feel myself falling into this pace. Case in point. Yesterday I realized I forgot to pack a bathing suit. Who comes to Hawaii without a bathing suit? Last month I would have broken down, spilled tears, and some ill-placed object would be broken.

 Note to self: retire to Hawaii.

Yesterday we were in Ka'paa for bike riding. Although we eagerly took a full day rental from Coconut Coasters ($21 including helmet, lock, and basket) hoping to ride up into the mountains, we threw in the towel after only four hours, including our picnic lunch (see recipe below).

The fact is, the best and most scenic biking is only along the four-mile, paved coastal path. In fact the path is fabulous for a wheelchair as well, or even power-strolling your grand child. But biking on the narrow, twisty main roadway and even the narrower, corkscrewing side roads is the land equivalent of braving the big surf.

Biking is just recreational. You must have a car here to get around. Knowing this from friends, we booked a rental car well ahead and found a good rate from Hertz by pre-paying online through Hot Wire ($196 USD/week for a Suberu Impreza).
We collected our car at the Lihu'e Airport, the main town of Kauai and about fifty minutes from Princeville.

With two exceptions, the St. Regis and the Hanalei Colony Resort, accommodation in the area of Princeville is not on the beach. You must drive for groceries, restaurants, and even to the lovely beach of Hanalei Bay, though it's less than ten minutes away. Today, we drove to the very end of the road to start a hike into the mountain. It's a rough path with lots of rocky, uneven surfaces and it's straight up. After half an hour we decided enough of this. We'd rather twist an ankle in the ocean, so we headed to the surf of Hanalei Bay.

Along the way we stopped at Haena Bay Beach and discovered how much difference a few kilometres make in the quality of beaches. Today the surf was strong and, unlike other beach bays, there's no protective reef, so the waves break hard onto shore. There's such a strong backwash and powerful rip currents that the sand bowls under the erosive force of the surf.  Still, I'm mesmerized by these obviously dangerous waters. Not only does the cresting wave submerge and pulverize brave (or stupid) swimmers each year, I see how the retreating surf would dig a grave for its victim as it sucks back the sand in one, angry, intentional motion.

Dan's not aware of the big one behind him
While it's not calm in Hanalei Bay, it's not dangerous, despite red flags. Life guards are on duty. Dan and I body surfed until the school bell rang and the mop-headed pros took to the waves. We watched the action from shore until Dan suddenly realized he had forgotten his custom-moulded orthothics in a suitcase stored in our friend's locker. With four weeks of hiking in the Himalaya in front of us, I admire his calm. In spite of the progress I'm making here in Hawaii, if it had been me, I'd require sedation.

We pack up and walk to the parking lot.

Arriving in his pick-up truck (the second most common vehicle next to rented convertibles), a 60-year-old surfer-dude lifts his board out of the back. He tells me that the marine reports are talking about big swells over the next 24 hours. It's a full moon.

"I can teach you how to mount the board and you'll see that you'll be able to catch a wave in no time," he brags.

"I guarantee it will catch me first," I reply.

"I'm hearing fear," he responds. "Traveler. Be brave."

Then he disappears to catch his wave.

Note to self: Traveler. Be brave. Suffer the small stuff.


Grocery Logistics 

I know you're saying "who cares" by now. Trivia. Space-filler! 

The reason why I wish to share my sandwich recipe is because when you spend a week at a time-share, a good cook is challenged. Time-share regulars may, like me, travel with baggies of Montreal Steak Spice, oregano, flour, and other staples... and we take our chances through customs. Still, there's never enough flavourings.  

And another reason why we're not buying a lot of groceries here is because they're expensive!  

As usual, our first job at a time share is to stock the fridge. I experience my first disappointment about Hawaii in the cost of food. 

Dan says, "suck it up". 

He is so not a cook. 

One lemon is $1.79; $1.25 for one potato. One carrot, one dollar! I will never again complain about food prices at home. An island has a downside.  

Here's the routine:

At the beginning of the week, I buy, among other things, cheese,  a few local vegetables, two lemons, avocado, some mixed deli olives, and one roaster chicken. I strip off the legs to make one meal BBQ'd with Montreal Steak Spice; de-bone and de-skin the breasts, marinate in lemon, flour, and pan-fry for a second meal; boil the carcass with onion, half of a spent lemon, salt and pepper for a third meal of thick soup with added carrot and potato. The cooked meat from the carcass will be the core of the sandwich.

Needless to say, we interject eating out throughout the week for some variety.

I have no mayonnaise therefore I mix the chicken pieces in the flavoured oil at the bottom of the mixed olives. Then smash some ripe avocado with lemon, use it to butter the bread (toasted first) and then stack the chicken, sliced tomato, lettuce, and sliced cheese. Wrapped tightly (saved plastic from fruit purchases) and in our back-packs, after three hours of biking in the hot sun, voila, the cheese will have melted and you have something like a chicken pannini. Bring napkins.



Our one-bedroom suite is spacious, has wide corridors and doorways (easy for a wheelchair to navigate but with notice the management will need to lay in a ramp for the few steps at entry). It's well appointed with all the usual audio-visual toys, stainless steel cookware, a full sized fridge, dishwasher, and washer/dryer. The dressing room is separated from the bath and toilet so couples can co-exist in harmony. This unit however doesn't have a separate shower. The tub, a jacuzzi, is high and difficult to step over.

Surprisingly, there's no air conditioning, which is great for our sinuses but a curiosity nevertheless. We discovered, as everyone does who comes to Hawaiifor the first time, that the ocean breeze provides constant cooling. Air-born sun hats are casualties of the phenomenon.

St. Regis
The St. Regis Resort is very new and built into a slice of an outcrop that forms one corner of the iconic, crescent-shaped Hanalei Bay Beach. It is very wheel-chair friendly in that you can get to the garden level by elevator and then walk along a ramp. At this level, there's the pool, an outdoor restaurant on various terrace levels and then there's grass to the small, private beach (a tiny tip of Hanalei Beach). This is an upscale hotel and yes it's large but it gave us good vibes. The staff were helpful and not at all disdainful of travelers in clunky hiking boots. I think it's worth researching discount deals for this hotel. At between $300 - $500 per night, it's too rich for Dan and I, but if you travel less and want to put more into each outing, the St. Regis is for you.

Another resort directly on the beach is the Hanalei Colony Resort. This is a resort of two-bedroom units, very small compared to our time-share. In fact, I'd be inclined to use the second bedroom for our luggage it's so small. The outstanding feature here is the waterfront. You are really on the beach although you'll pay lots more for a unit that is directly ocean facing. The beach is very rough now and you cannot swim. In the best summer months, however, snorkelling and swimming is at its best.
Hanalei Colony Beach Front Unit

But I have reservations however about the comfort of the units. The sea breeze is everything and these units only have one patio door to their balcony that opens. Our Wyndham unit by comparison allows us to open the lower portion of our bedroom windows for the breeze. These parts are slatted for security and with screens so you can keep them open all night.

There is a small pool, but it abuts the roadway so there is car noise despite the dense hedging. Guests need a key to enter, obviously to bar it from outsiders.

From a survey of the Mediterranean menu (the chef is Lebanese), the on site restaurant looks very good. The ambiance is lovely too as the tables overlook the sea. I'm eager to have lunch here, even though we are not staying at the hotel.

 From Carolann's Blog Maturetraveler

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