This rain is getting everyone’s attention: Those on a Kauai vacation to get married or snorkel or sunbathe. Those four-legged kind who prefer not to get their feet wet to do their business. Those stranded in Hanalei
and beyond, because the bridge is closed. Those with children in schools that can’t be accessed because parking lots have turned into lakes and driveways into streams. Those without electricity. Those whose homes have flooded. Those road crews in raingear working to remove mudslide boulders and repair washouts.
My docent duty at Makauwahi Cave Reserve
was canceled yesterday.
We are all, in some way, seeking shelter from the rain.
Even if the shelter we seek if a respite from boredom. Boredom, that is, from staying indoors for the third day straight. Kauai is made for the outdoors. Sometimes, I have trouble deciding what I want to do: Go camping at Polihale. Trek to the Laysan albatross colony that I monitor. Hike Sleeping Giant. Snorkel at Tunnels. Dive at Koloa Landing. Whale watch. If you don’t like to lead an active outdoor lifestyle, Kauai isn’t for you.
The truism, “It is sunny somewhere on the island” flat out isn’t true today. It wasn’t yesterday. Or the day before.
Antsy, I headed to Small Town Coffee for a respite from the confines my own home.
I sat at the retro kitchen table. Small Town Coffee relocated since I last wrote about it
, but Anni made sure to pack up and move the chrome and Formica-topped table and chairs that make me think of June Cleaver’s kitchen in Leave it to Beaver
My plan was to write. And, I did. Just not what I expected. Instead of reflecting on my February experiences and adventures—you can watch my slide show above for that—I found myself eavesdropping on the conversations around me.
A twenty-something woman with wavy, blonde hair pulled into a loose knot on her head sat across from a middle-aged woman. The younger woman carried a backpack made of hemp and wore slippahs made of tight woven twine. Her toenails were newly painted a dark color of some sort. She’d just returned from the remote Kalalau Valley along Kauai’s Napali Coast. Kalalau is only accessible by boat (in calm conditions) and an 11-mile and quite challenging hiking trail. The valley is long and wide and was once populated by many Hawaiians. Today, camping permits are required. But not everyone in Kalalau bothers with legalities.
“I stayed out there a month, and the day I hiked out a black helicopter swooped in over me as I walked down the trial. The rangers come. They take your stuff and pour out all your food. They dumped my M&Ms on my tent once. They poured out my honey. They come in to party. Bring beer. But their budgets got cut so now they can only bring in a six-pack a piece. But I can’t imagine how it would be if the rangers didn’t come and shut down the camps.”
The older woman said something.
“We went with a guy who’s been going for 20 years. He said carry backpack no more than 20 pounds. Mine was 30. My mom’s was like 25. I saw people with packs that went over their heads. ‘How long are you in for?’ I’d ask. ‘Oh, two days,’ they’d say. ‘What? You don’t need that much stuff.’
“I hiked with a tarp for a tent. One pot is all you need. A cup is nice but bamboo works, too. Noni leaves work as plates. Lilikoi is everywhere. You put it in everything like rice and oatmeal. Main food is rice, lentils and oatmeal. Miso is a big one, a good seasoning. Powdered milk. Hot chocolate. You pick up so many tips."
The younger woman did most of the talking, but the older woman interjected with a question or two. She had her back to me, and I could never quite capture her words.
“Someone hikes out with the grocery list and the money. They call it ‘a boat drop.’ They’re just throwing bags as they’re going down the coast. People are running down the beach. One time, I saw this little girl get on a surf board and paddle out through a break to get food. It was gnarly. Waves bring it in but the current drags it down the coast. It is definitely a boat drop. They just drop it.
“A couple older ladies grow sprouts. They’ve been in and out for 13 years. There are community gardens and stuff. Or, go hike in the valley and get yourself some taro."
A grey-bearded man toting an iPad knockoff and wearing a Gilligan hat asked if he could join me at the retro table. “Of course,” I said. He had some years on him, his eyes were leaking, and his mouth hung open. I wondered if he’d ever spent time at Kalalalu. He sipped an espresso and used his knuckle instead of his fingertip to work the tablet’s screen.
“The cakes. I had more cakes out there than two months out here. They have a fire underneath a cast-iron pot and another pot on top and then, a fire on top of that.
“So many great people,” the young woman went on, her hands tucked under her thighs and her legs swinging to beat the band. “There’s nothing like it.
“One guy. ‘I am Dimitri,’ he says. ‘I meditate with the tree until I am in love with the tree.’ It was a noni tree.”
At another table, an English-accented couple sat with Bose headphones behind a laptop and made one Skype call after another. “We’re in a café.” “There are lots of chickens here.” “We’re having a storm.” “Relaxing.”
It dawned on me then that one of the best ways to pass a rainy day and enjoy a little local Kauai color was to hang out at a coffee shop.
“One time I was sleeping above the heiau, not the main part,” the young Kalalau camper continued, “And I see someone coming down the pathway, like 200 yards away, and he stops right next to me and sits down. He’s like, ‘Hey.’ And we talked about how cool Kalalau was. We talked for half-an-hour, and I asked his name, and he’s says, ‘Wilson.’ The next day, I was talking to another guy for a while, and I asked his name, and you know what he said? Wilson.”
She reached up to re-secure her hair. “I went for a week,” she said. “And stayed a month.”