Every day, I am plotting. Sometimes in my head. Sometimes out loud, enlisting my mom, a willing conspirator, in my visions of sunlit splendor.
We are in Kauai, on vacation with family friends, Barb and Mike, the same friends we visited the Big Island with six years ago, and with whom my mom has returned to Hawaii twice more before this particular trip. After three days in Waikiki, which, aside from our visit to Pearl Harbor, felt like landing in a cosmopolitan playground — the day we saw a Japanese bride in a couture gown standing at a pedestrian crossing next to a businessman in a suit and a barefoot, bikini-clad young woman with a surfboard on her head seemed to encapsulate the neighborhood’s air of commercialism and mellow charm — we depart for Kauai.
And it is here, on this unspoiled, northernmost Hawaiian isle, rippling with lush, dramatic beauty, where I truly begin to relax. Something about so many spectacular shades of green, the feathered arc of palm trees dusting the blue skies- – one of my favorite sights in the world — the unhurried rhythms lulls me into a soothing familiarity. Kauai, as my mom and I will repeatedly comment, feels like home.
The similarities to St. Lucia, from its verdant mountain spires and tropical rainforests to its aquamarine shorelines, entrance us, though it feels different, too. There is a gentleness that seems as inherent as its untamed grandeur, a playful sweetness many we meet possess, and a sense of harmony with all that envelops, as if the spirit of aloha — so much more than a word for greetings and farewells — dwells in the air and the land.
So, of course, I resolve to move there. It is fanciful dreaming — at least at this stage of my life. The cost of living is high, job opportunities are scarce, and even if they weren’t, making it there as a journalist is unlikely. I’d fare better on one of the bigger islands, though they may present similar challenges, but Kauai utterly captivates me.
Every day when I walk out the door of our condo, I stare at the palm trees and say a quick prayer of gratitude for being enfolded by miles of endless garden and sea. And every day, I think, how can I stay here?
When we attend a timeshare sales pitch in exchange for discounted tickets to a helicopter tour of the island, I am seriously tempted. It wouldn’t be living there, but it could be the next-best thing. Besides, anyplace where someone shows up for what is essentially a business meeting in shorts and flip-flops is somewhere I want to be.
Of course, we are seeing Kauai through tourists’ eyes. We do touristy things, like the helicopter ride. It is one of the best ways to see the island. And though only two months before, I swore to a girlfriend who had done such a tour on Maui I would never set foot in a chopper — it’s one thing to be surrounded by all that metal with my sliver of a window on an airplane, quite another to realize just how much open space I’m gliding through with the unimpeded views from a whirlybird — the experience is exhilarating.
Swooping down into Waimea Canyon, with its rugged red lava beds and the Waimea River cutting a crystalline trail through its gorge, hovering close to the waterfalls thundering down Mount Waialeale, one of the wettest spots on earth, and then emerging from its veil of clouds to the azure skies arching across the sheer and towering cliffs of the Na Pali Coastline — I am awestruck. And when the next day, we see those breathtaking cliffs, their razor-thin ridges giving way to deep valleys and hidden caves, from a sunset cruise, I fall more deeply under Kauai’s spell.
I am disappointed we see only the tail and back of the humpback whales making their annual migration to warmer waters at this time of year — I have been obsessed with glimpsing a whale since Barb shared an article about their appearance prior to our trip — but Barb and I being the first to spot one is still a thrill. So, too, is having a pod of spinner dolphins accompany us for part of our journey.
Not every day is packed with this kind of excitement. In Poipu Beach, we visit a farmer’s market and Spouting Horn, where a lava tube blasts spumes of surf from impossibly teal-blue waters dozens of feet into the air. At the Kauai Coffee Co. in Kalaheo, the largest coffee farm in the U.S., I elatedly feed my caffeine addiction sampling far too many of their different roasts, while my mom and I, neither of us big drinkers, giggle through the entire rum tasting at the Koloa Rum Co. plantation, where I somehow botch the simple steps for making a mai tai cocktail.
Some of the simpler moments are my favorite, like sitting in Nawiliwili Beach Park, with my morning coffee watching the surfers and paddle boarders in the swells or being serenaded by a woman with a ukulele when I return a few days later with my mom at sunset. I love when all four of us hit a local happy hour after our helicopter ride, still giddy from our tour, laughing and chatting over wings and fish tacos and the joy of being where we are.
I know my experience is filtered through a different lens than if I lived there, and I wonder if I would eventually get bored with the slower pace, yearn for a busier nightlife.
It’s now three weeks since we’ve been back and still Kauai tugs at me, perhaps because I will always be an island girl at heart. I haven’t stopped imagining its possibilities as home, even in the embrace of the community of family and friends I have here. But home is a physical sense of belonging, too, and while my loved ones root me here, I think I’ll always leave a piece of my heart in every paradise that cradles me at my happiest, drenched in the sun and the surf.
– Life in LaLa Land, published in The Intelligencer and Bucks County Courier Times