Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Kauai Travel Guide

Aaah. Just returned from a relaxing vacation in Hawaii, on the island of Kauai. Kauai is one of the smaller and more remote islands in Hawaii, and apparently not very crowded in June. We also stayed on the less-populous East side (most of the tourist resorts seem to be on the North). So I'm going to share some pics, and tell you a little about visiting there.

Kauai is just insanely beautiful. I don't know for sure if it's any more beautiful than the rest of the islands, as it's the only one I've been to, but seriously, everywhere you look you see beaches, mountains, flowers and chickens. Yeah, chickens. It seems a hurricane hit this island in 1991, and released a lot of chickens from their cages. They went wild, and they are literally everywhere. The roosters (which seem to be more common than hens) crow all goddamn day. It's a fascinating look at how species spread in the wild: 20 years later, even way up on the remote mountains there are chickens running around. I tried to ask the chickens in the picture below why they were crossing the road, but I got no response.

Another thing you should know about Hawaii is that it's very far south. Like, almost on the Equator. I did not know this. I figured it was straight west of California, the same way that if you start sailing east from Ft. Lauderdale you end up in the Bahamas. It's not. So what I'm saying is, you need to use some serious sunscreen down there. The sun will laugh at your puny SPF 30. You need, like SPF 786 or something. Now, I was raised in South Florida, so I know the rules of the sun (it's dangerous from 9 am to 3 pm. It's even worse between 10 and 2, and from 11 to 1, shit, you might as well stick your dick in a light socket), and I was careful enough not to get painfully burned, but I did end up with a very itchy rash in all my sun-exposed areas.

Oh yeah: and it's expensive. Your average meal in Kauai (and I assume the rest of the islands) is going to cost about the same as a high-end steakhouse in L.A. And there was never a point where I was eating something and just thought "Goddamn, this is good!" So you might want to try to get some groceries when you get there, although the groceries are pricey, too. Apparently, it costs money to ship ingredients out across the Pacific.

The girl who sat next to us on the plane recommended we pick up The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook: Kauai Revealed. This proved to be a useful book. It's arranged in a logical way, and the writing is witty and entertaining.

We stayed at the Kauai Beach Resort. Now personally, as much as I like all the volcanoes and beaches and whatever, my idea of a good vacation basically comes down to this: a place to swim and time to read. Now this place...I'm sure it's not the cheapest place on the island, but it seemed like a good deal on Priceline, and I can't imagine a place suiting my needs better. The pool is like a Hawaii theme park: fake caves and waterfalls, a fake lava hot tub, all that. After spending a week swimming in these pools, I don't know how I'll be able to go back to the crowded lap lanes at the Glendale Y. Tuesday night, they had a live band and hula dancers performing on the rocks at poolside during happy hour ($3 mai tais). You could conceivably sit in the pool, drink a mai tai and watch the hula dancers right in front of you. Talk about milkin' it!

The food at the hotel was, of course, even more expensive than everywhere else, so we ate out at least once a day (well, one day we just got a Subway while we were out and ate it in the room later). Some of the places we ate:

KCL Barbecue and Chinese Restaurant was a typical example of the local fare: bad Chinese food with a lump of macaroni salad next to the gooey rice.

The Bull Shed is right on the water. I mean, seriously, RIGHT on the water. Our tiny triangular table was pressed up against this window (see below) that was, like, 3 feet from the waves. You could even open the window, but the wind and waves were a bit much. Can't remember much about the food.

Keoki's Paradise is as close to a "tiki bar" as the island has. No cool mugs, and if they had Singapore Slings they weren't bragging on 'em, but a nice open air dining hall with lots of tropical greenery and fake waterfalls. If you were going to Kauai and didn't want to splurge on a luau, this would be a pretty good substitute. My steak was lame, but Bobbie got ribs, which were pretty good, and teriyaki chicken, which was very good. Had a nice, strong taste of caramelized teriyaki. Below is the view from our table (beyond it is a parking lot).

Tip Top Cafe and Bakery
is in a motel in Lihue, and is a popular breakfast spot for locals. No atmosphere at all, but the macadamia pancakes were tasty. After eating here, we went to see a couple waterfalls. You're not really right up on these, but you have a good view. There was a third we were considering going to, that you could get closer to, but the hike seemed like too much of a hassle. But here are some nice pictures we took.

Far below: The Quiet Village

Scotty's Beachside BBQ actually has pretty good BBQ: ribs, chicken, pulled pork, brisket. They also have mai tais and other specialty cocktails, and some local beers on tap. But best of all is, once again, the view. The dining room is open air (ie, there's an open window that takes up the whole side of the place facing the sea) and arranged in tiers with all the tables facing the ocean. Incredible view.

Smith's Tropical Paradise: Of course, if you're going to Hawaii, the one thing you want to do is attend a luau. Understand before you go that luaus are going to cost close to $100 per person. This one was near our hotel, recommended by both the guidebook and the people we talked to, and seemed to be one of the cheaper ones on the island (I believe we paid $85 a piece). Now, Bobbie was a bit disappointed with the luau experience. Having grown up on Elvis and Frankie & Annette movies, she was expecting dinner to be on a beach, by a big bonfire, with big plates of food brought to you by people in native garb. So we didn't quite get that. Instead, dinner is served in a big open-air pavilion, where you sit at long tables and go serve yourself buffet style while a Hawaiian band plays. You can stuff yourself like crazy on local delicacies, including the awesome kalua pig, which tastes great with greasy Chinese fried rice, and chicken adoba, which tastes very porky (maybe it's cooked with the pig?), and poi, which tastes like nothing but has the appetizing texture of mud. There's an open bar with mai tais, beer and full bar service. The mai tais, in contrast to the ones served at the hotel, had a nice, balanced taste, and seemed to contain more ingredients than Myers and pineapple juice. Dinner is followed by a big show with the native dances of Hawaii, along with the dances of other Polynesian peoples, and Chinese and Japanese dances. There's fire dancing, and a big, fake volcano, the whole nine.

What makes this particular luau so cool is the setting. It's in this big park covering acres of gardens and ponds. Swans and peacocks roam the grounds. There's a big King Kong-like mountain in the background. There are tropical flowers everywhere. And you are surrounded by birdcalls that sound like they were taken off a Martin Denny record (except that Martin Denny stopped recording before 1991, so there are no cock-a-doodle-doos on his records). That title, "tropical paradise," is earned.

Monico's Taqueria: on the last day, killing some time before the airport, we decided to just get some Mexican food. Simple, cheap, you know what to expect. So we stopped at this place (recommended by a guy at the hotel, faintly praised by the guide book). We had to wait about 10 minutes for them to open, as this is one of those places that closes between 2 and 5 (common for most of the country, but I guess living in the city I'd forgotten about this phenomenon). I ordered two tacos: carnitas and al pastor. Both good, but I really liked the pastor, which was these beautiful little bits of diced pork, almost bacon-y. This actually turned out to be one of the best things I ate on the trip.

Waimea Canyon: So the last day, we had to check out at 1:00, but the only flight out was a red eye leaving at 8:45. We decided to drive up the mountain on the West side of the island, which gives you some great views of a huge canyon, and of the ocean (and the next island, if it's clear enough). Actually, couldn't see the ocean from way up on the mountain because of clouds that day (and we never even made it to the tippy-top), but further down we got some amazing views. Enjoy the pictures.

This last one was a little place some ways up where a stream was running through red dirt dunes like some kind of Martian landscape. Lots of red dirt on Kauai. Your shoes are red by the time you leave, especially if you're into outdoor activities (which, admittedly, we're not).


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