Wednesday, February 27, 2013


As soon as we closed the front gate behind us, it already felt like we were on an adventure, but we weren’t heading to the airport quite yet. We’d found a last minute Alaska Airlines flight to Kauai on a deal email a friend had forwarded, but it departed from Oakland. While either Oakland or San Francisco would have been an hour and 15 minutes from our house in pastoral western Sonoma County, my brother and his family lived in the Oakland hills, just 20 minutes – though he could get us there in 15 – from the airport, a real benefit when the flight was scheduled for 7:30 am. We’d made arrangements to spend the night in their back house, and they’d invited some neighbors over to enjoy a pork shoulder from the pigs we’d raised that year. The meat had already been braising in a crock pot – bathing in white wine, vegetables, and I don’t doubt a bit of butter – for four hours when we arrived late in the afternoon.


Our fourteen-year-old niece loves to see fourteen-month-old Wynne’s latest skills, so we stood her up on her two impossibly tiny feet and pointed her towards Maya. After finding her balance with the first tentative foot movements, she spotted the open arms of her waiting target and leaned her head forward, firing off a flurry of quickening steps before falling into Maya’s lap, laughing. Ann and I had been doing this with Wynne for a few months; I like to call it “ghost riding” after the game from childhood where my friends and I would jump off the back of our dirt bikes and let them go careening ahead of us. Like the dirt bikes, she’d sometimes go surprisingly far, and, also like the dirt bikes, the ride would usually end in a spectacular crash. This afternoon, she’d found two great landing pads in Maya and the neighbor’s son, Charlie, and was happily sent back and forth between them like a live action Pong game.

But on one trip across, she noticed me standing there watching her. She turned and plodded towards me steadily. Not wanting to end the fun Maya and Charlie were having, I took a step back and pointed at them, trying to redirect her. She kept coming. I backed a little farther. She kept coming. Now I was pinned in the corner of the kitchen with Wynne in pursuit. I turned the corner and moved between the kitchen island and the stove. She made the 90 degree turn and followed! At the end of the island, she did the same to follow me around. Whether it was the layout of our kitchen at home or something else, we’d never thought to postpone the joyous launch into our laps by just backing up, and when we did, it seemed our little one could walk a lot farther than the 5 or 6 steps we’d been letting her.

At the airport the next morning, the TSA officer looked at us like we were insane when Ann held up her iPhone with a square bar code and the letters “INF” on the screen as proof that we had made arrangements for our daughter to sit on our laps (instead of gate checking her, I presume), insisting that we return to the Alaska Airlines counter. Back at the counter, the agent gave us the same look when we told him what the TSA officer had said. Of course, after working it all out, there were several one to two-year-olds on the flight meaning that this interaction been played out over and over all morning.

Enjoying mama’s pre-flight snacks…


In flight, the kids all had some fun peeking over the seatbacks at each other to say hello. At one point, a little girl toddled up to our row as the mother leaned into the aisle to supervise. In her hand, she was carrying her beloved stuffed animal, a grey bunny which it turned out it was the same one we have for Wynne. While hers is brown, we’d just been given the grey one and figured we’d keep it as a backup. After sleeping with it in our bed for a couple nights so it smelled like us – we may be getting our baby confused with a golden retriever puppy – we swapped the imposter in one night at bedtime. Other than a couple quizzical “Are you SURE you’re Bun Bun?” looks, she accepted the long soft ears – much softer than the milk and peanut butter crusted ones on her primary - as good as the original. The five and a half hours passed surprisingly quickly with Ann managing Wynne’s feeding perfectly to reduce ear pressure and ultimately bring on a rare and indulgent nap in mom’s arms with the original Bun Bun clutched tightly.


When we arrived at the Waimea Plantation Cottages, our hale wasn’t ready so we grabbed a few things and settled in under a huge banyan tree in the middle of a wide flat lawn. Feeling like she’d been cooped up all day, we decided to let Wynne do some walks back and forth between us. As soon as she’d get to one of us, she’d immediately turn and start back towards the other. Unfortunately for her, we now knew the secret, and no matter how far we backed away as she approached, she’d keep coming, turning if we turned but still walking. Of course, she quickly figured the game out and would complain when we’d start this Sisyphean prank. Still, at one point, I walked back to the car for the necessary items for a long overdue diaper change, and when she saw me walking away, started to follow, arms outstretched or over her head like a monkey Frankenstein.



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The cottages had been built in the early 1900’s for employees of a large sugar plantation established by a young Norwegian immigrant and were surrounded by coconut trees that were harvested for copra, the meat of the coconut used to make coconut oil. It’s also interesting that the fiber remaining after extracting the oil, the copra cake, is considered a good source of protein for ruminants and other livestock, although I haven’t looked too deeply into whether it has any of the same effects as feeding ruminants corn (changes in the pH of their stomachs and allowing the growth of bacteria like the 0157:H7 strain of E. coli). One thing I do know is that the Kalua Pork tacos we got at Island Taco on the way into town – you’d really think I might take a break from pork when we’re not at home eating our own, but apparently not – were incredible. The term “kahlua” literally means “cooked in an underground oven” but is also sometimes used to describe any slow-cooked pork. Oh, and on that note, here’s a recipe for a Cuban fresh leg of pork I made the other day in the slow-cooker at home. Man, I’m getting hungry. What the hell were we talking about?




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Oh yeah! The restaurant at the plantation used to be a brewery and, if we’re being honest, was about the only thing I had read about where we were staying when Ann sent me the link. Well, despite the brewery having moved a couple years ago, it was pretty hard to complain with 5 different varieties of Kona beer and 4 from Maui Brewing on tap. Still, one reviewer on Yelp couldn’t stop bitching about the “wild jungle fowl” roaming the premises, though for us and Wynne, the proud roosters presiding over their flock of a few hens – usually with 5 or 6 chicks trailing behind - waddling everywhere felt like a little bit of home. After each crow we heard, Wynne would echo it with a little “Ohhwww!” just like she does at home. I couldn’t help but wonder what was happening to the eggs the hens were laying. I’m sure a fair number are lost to predators like other birds and cats (we’re having a bit of an issue with this combination at the farmlet at the moment), but the rest must be hatching. While 99% of our eggs on the farmlet, fertile thanks to our rooster, do not hatch because our hens have mostly lost the instinct to incubate them, this feral group must be hatching their eggs on a regular basis or they’d die out. And from number of chickens hanging out under every hale and along the side of all the roads, that’s not a problem.


The next morning, Yelp directed us to Yumi’s, a small local hangout with friendly staff and patrons. On another Yelp tip, we walked back up the street to a little market for some general supplies including two containers of amazing “poke” – marinated raw tuna -  for $10 that would have cost $40 at home and a bucket of beach toys for Wynne.


Reflection of the lens and a little sleeping face inside…


The old Waimea Canyon road runs up a ridge between the coastal plains made up of silt left behind by regular flooding and the canyons carved by the run off from Mount Waiʻaleʻale, the wettest spot on Earth with an average of 452 inches of rain each year. While the newer, higher capacity road takes a more direct route, the smaller, winding road runs right up the ridge, affording spectacular views of the coast and canyon. After several minutes of tight turns, we pulled into the first lookout with the rest of the rental cars only to realize that Wynne was asleep. Yep, it was naptime, right on schedule, so we took turns running up to each lookout, snapping WAY too many pictures then returning to the car and trying to close the door as gently as possible. We made it all the way to the top for a jaw-dropping view of the southern portion of the Napali Coast just in time for her to wake up in the lookout parking lot.







If you’re feelin’ “linky,” check out a flash-forward of our May 2013 Airstream trip to the Grand Canyon in Arizona a couple months later.


More simply jaw-dropping views from the top of the road…











A little lower, we stopped for a picnic of poke, Kettle chips, apples, chocolate covered almonds and of course, peanut butter on bread as the wild jungle fowl looked on anxiously.




There were a couple four wheel drive roads I’d read about in the guidebook that I wanted to explore. When we’d checked in at the rental car company they’d explained that we were reserved for a full-size SUV which would be a Chevy Traverse. A few weeks earlier, we’d been up in Tahoe and had come across a Traverse helplessly trapped in a small snowbank with its rear tires spinning. We tried to pull it out (back up the hill) with our hybrid Toyota Highlander whose four tires gripped valiantly, but alas the computer decided it wasn’t good idea.  “Just what do you think you’re doing, Dave.” “I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.” So when offered a 2013 4 door Jeep Wrangler Unlimited instead, I happily ate the upgrade costs since I’d been want to check one of these out for a while anyway.


The map in the guide book showed several dirt roads winding out onto the bluffs overlooking the coast but cautioned that they were intended for use by hunters. Though the locked gates at the entrance were ultimately what dissuaded us from the one I’d wanted to try, the warning signs about wearing brightly colored clothing and not making any sudden moves might just have been enough on their own. But on the other side of the road, the map showed more dirt roads leading to hiking trails in the canyon, and we found one that pressed 6 miles into the jungle. The condition of the roads varies greatly by season but can also change with even the slightest bit of tropical rainfall. The first time we dropped the Wrangler Unlimited into four wheel drive was for a 10 foot long muddy puddle that we hardly would have noticed by the end of the road to Drake Bay at the end of the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica. There were a few more muddy puddles and spots where we were glad for the high ground clearance, but the only other section that concerned me was a long downhill with sloppy wet ruts. I felt confident enough in our combo grocery-getter/rock crawler that I slowly proceeded. We got a little sideways but managed to stay on the higher side of the trail.


At this point, I was starting to play out scenarios in my head involving newspaper headlines about the stupid tourists who took their rented jeep down a donkey trail into “the Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” But, I reasoned, we’d stocked the car with snacks back in Waimea and, if necessary, could survive several days on the Cheerios Wynne had been diligently stockpiling one-by-one in the rear foot well.  After a bumpy climb, the payoff was another great view into the canyon.




We took a few glory shots – or possibly ones they would use to accompany the headline in tomorrow’s paper – and decided to head back towards the road. Of course, I immediately started to notice dark clouds appearing and began to wonder how our climb back up the slippery slope would go. The first raindrops appeared on the windshield as we approached the tight left turn that began the ascent. The tension in the car was high, but when we looked into the backseat to see how our precious passenger was handling the stress, she peered back through half closed eyes, glazed over from imminent sleep. It’s hard to ruffle this girl. Again I stayed on the high side of the trail and tried to keep even power to the wheels. While I saw Ann’s eyes go wide as the back slid a bit, I could feel the traction and knew we’d be back on dry dirt the top of the hill without a problem.

Back on pavement, we descended the twisty ridge road back towards the coast. It was getting later in the day and the smooth ride was not as conducive to Wynne’s napping as the rough stuff had been. From her rear facing car seat, we heard whines of protest alternating with an exhaustive exploration of “D sounds” (Doh doh doh dwo dee dee da da doh doh dwo dee da). Our first instinct was that she was tired, was going to melt down and we needed to get her home. It was just a parental safety reflex. We were unsure of what she’d do next and wanted to be in a controlled environment. But then we realized, there was nothing at home that would solve the problem. In fact, I tend to find that she’s easier for me to entertain out and about, on a trip to the hardware store or getting the car washed. So at the coast road, we turned north instead of south and drove until the pavement ended at Polihale State Park. Three more miles on washboard dirt – now a distracting opportunity for the backseat passenger to explore the effects of vibration on a continuous “ooowwwhhhhhwwooooooowwhhhh” sound – and we followed a sandy trail to the left just past a huge monkey pod tree right to the beach.



As we got out of the Jeep, a couple guys were just returning to the van parked in front of us, carrying boogie boards and dripping with salt water. We proceeded to pack up the requisite gear-splosion involved in bringing a baby to a beach, even though we pride ourselves in trying to go as “high speed/low drag” as possible. One of the guys gave a knowing nod and offered “I have a three-year-old,” then added “Hey, you want a cold beer for the beach?” and reached into his cooler to produce a Kona Brewing Company Longboard Lager. As the expansive beach, bordered on the north by the rugged Napali Coast, revealed its white sands and crashing surf and I persuaded the top of my Longboard free with the rental car key, we marveled that our day really couldn’t have gone much better.












Although, when I ran back to the car for one more thing to build some beach shade for Wynne, the guy in the van did try his best; “Hey, you wanna hit the pot?” he said, extending a smoking joint filled with a strain of weed I can only assume had some colorful island-inspired name like “The Kind Kamehameha.” I politely declined, truthfully reporting that the beer would be perfect but that the pot would put me to sleep on the beach. “Ah, that’s cool, brah. I just figured you were up here without mama and baby and maybe you’d wanna hit while the rules were different.”

Maybe another time, but right about now, I was pretty happy with this set of rules…