Island Fever

7/20/06: Post 1.002
Michele, Ryder and I recently returned from a week on the South shore of Kauai. In our past lives, pre-parenthood, Michele and I were the traveling types. We liked to go places and spend long days exploring; build art and take it to Burning Man, then build more art; spend the last night wherever we were out dancing ’till dawn. If we came home relaxed we were doing something wrong.

Growing up, I didn’t really have family vacations. Before my parents split we would go on camping trips in our hippe’d out Volkswagon Bus: the VW emblem on the front replaced with a spray-painted sun, flowered curtains on all of the windows inside. These camping trips were never very successful, as far as I can remember. The main memory that sticks in my mind is of my mother in a pair of shorts, standing knee-deep in a gargantuan mud puddle, pushing against the back of our mired bus, trying to help push it out of the puddle while my father drove. I seem to recall yelling above the sound of the engine, the spinning tires and loose mud being flung about; something about “you push the damn thing if you can’t drive it well enough to get it out of the puddle.” But remember, I was very young.

Later, growing up with our mom, my brother and I didn’t get the type of family vacations one sees on Brady Bunch reruns. Oh, sure there were trips to Mariott’s Great America. And I will never forget my “favorite bus ride of all time” from Willits California to Conrad Montana via Oakland, California; Reno, Nevada; and Salt Lake City, Utah. Get yourself a map of the Western United States, lay it out on the table and trace that route. Somewhere, outside of Reno, in the middle of the desert, note that the air conditioning broke. Google Map the distance from Reno to Salt Lake City, and then double the time it estimates to get there. This is how I spent the summer after fifth grade.

We did spend one magical summer with our dad and step-mom in a rented house in the Florida keys. We swam in the ocean every day, learned how to free-dive for lobster, jumped off of a 45 foot bridge, and swam with a pair of dolphin enough times to gain their trust. It was the perfect summer. We talked about it so much upon our return that our mom secretly vowed to never let us have that much fun with our father again. Subsequent summer vacations we would get sent to Montana to spend a month on our grandfather’s ranch, while she went to Jamaica with her then-fiance.

I swear I’m not as bitter as that reads.

The concept of a family vacation existed in the back reaches of my mind, mainly in theoretical terms; much like investing in a SEP IRA. Sure everybody should do it, and have always been sure I will, as soon as I can get my act together well enough to start. Booking our entire vacation on a credit card was an act of faith, a commitment to a concept we weren’t entirely sure we believed in. We figured it must be worth it, after all, so many other families do it; that, or everyone is simply drinking the same Kool Aid.

A friend who lives nearby grew up in California, just like me. He’s never been to Hawaii because of the popularity of it, operating under the assumption that “If that many people are into it, it can’t be good.” I, of all people, completely understand this mode of thought. For most of my life, if I didn’t discover the damn thing and was not the first one on the bandwagon, whatever it was must have been overrated. Operating under this premise, I didn’t see The Matrix until it had been out on video for months.

I always prefer to be ahead of the curve, but unless you have a private jet and/or yacht, your vacation choices on this planet are limited. Most regions the average American can afford to visit have seen other humans. Most regions you would want to take an 11-month old infant to have seen their share of fat Americans on tour buses.

Boarding the plane we were excited about a week in Kauai, and simultaneously resigned to our fate. Family Vacations were, after all, not something that we choose to do. We were simply taking this path because we were exhausted; an 11-month old baby boy does that to you.

Kauai was pleasantly surprising. The island itself is flabbergastingly beautiful. Ridiculously beautiful. Seen it on movies, thought I was prepared for the real thing, Holy Fucking Shit, You Must Be Kidding Me(c)(tm) beautiful. Only 20 miles across at its widest point, Kauai has incredible mountains ranging across it. Kauai’s highest mountain, Kawaikini Peak, is 5,243 feet tall, closely followed by Mount Waialeale at 5,080 feet. It’s hard to imagine how steep, lush and gorgeous the terrain is; in fact, it’s impossible to imagine.

Much of the island is set up to accommodate children of all ages. The resort we stayed at had a kiddie pool with a water slide, two waterfalls and an extremely shallow end filled with sand and terminating in a sand “beach.” Down at Poipu Beach they’ve created Baby Beach, a section of the beach walled off from waves, and protected by a subaquatic psuedo-reef. Maxing out at four feet deep, Baby Beach is a haven for small children and their exhausted parents.

Just down the way on Poipu Beach is a wonderful break that is small enough for first time boogie boarders to get their first taste. Further out, on the big reefs, we watched with amazement as the locals tore up the thunderous barrels the comprised the “small” summer reef break of 4 – 6 feet.

All over the island we discovered wonderful little cafes, locally owned restaurants, and craft shops offering goods made on the island. There was an abundance of healthy food to choose from, and everyone welcomed us and our little wild child. Poipu, where we stayed, is on the South shore of the island, and an area that many people we talked to called “the more crowded.” I understand why people say that. Kapaa is too crowded. A nice place to stop and shop or eat, but not where I’d want to be for more than a few hours.

We did our sightseeing almost all in one day, taking in Wailua Falls and Opaekaa Falls on our way to a hike at the end of Kuamoo Road. At each viewing area for the falls we saw the same families piling in and out of their cars, the same overweight tourists pouring out of their bus to spend five minutes, snap a few photos and get back on the bus. We noted joyfully, however, that the traffic greatly diminished as we continued up Kuamoo. Once we got to the end of Kuamoo and started hiking up Kuilau Trail, we found ourselves alone with the island.

Kuilau is a state-maintained trail that many locals call “The Knife.” It works its way along a ridgeline with Kawaikini and Waialeale rising up to the left of the trail, and the hills sloping down to the Pacific ocean to the right. Next time we’ll take the Powerline trail from one end of the island to the other.

We barely had a chance to explore Hanalei, on the North shore. It is an incredibly quaint little town, and we got the sense that it was where we’d want to stay the next time we went back, provided there was enough water access for Ryder.

Ryder really helped us discover what a Family Vacation is all about. It’s about finding a place where the parents can recharge their batteries while the kids drain theirs on a daily basis. It’s about celebrating the things a family can do and explore together.

Breakfasting on the lanai every morning, watching our son discover the joys of swimming in salt water, spending a week together as a family in a warm, relaxing environment were all amazing. Neither Michele or I ever swam in water more than 4.5 feet deep. We never had a wave break over us, never paddled a kayak, never strapped on a mask, hopped on a bike, or got to read a book on the beach. And we’re totally cool with it. Sitting in the sand of Poipu Beach, watching Ryder point earnestly at the ocean and sign “more” is all the vacation my heart desires. Well that, and maybe one round of golf…

Next year we’ll get more time to do “adult things.” Next year. Because after our week in Kauai, we’re firm believers in the Family Vacation. We’re not just drinking the Kool Aid, we’re mixing it up and serving it to our friends. It might be a few years before we’re back on the island, but we’ll be back.

Leave a Reply