October 2011

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Kauai’s Hindu Monastery

The cauldron at the Hindu monastery where I burned my problems away--I hope. Photo by David Lansing.

Surf’s up on the North Shore. Word has it that Laird Hamilton (who put his famous “Jaws” house on Maui up for sale in February and plans to build a new home on Kauai, where he spent a good chunk of his youth) is back on the island and has even been spotted doing tow-ins somewhere around Tunnels Beach. So this morning I reluctantly checked out of Waimea Plantation Cottages and made the big swing from the West Short to the North where I checked in to Hanalei Colony Resort, a somewhat funky old hotel complex just down the road from Tunnels.

But before driving to Hanalei, I stopped at Kauai’s Hindu Monastery just outside of Kapaa. Yesterday I’d met a woman at the Waimea Plantation pool who told me the monastery was a very cool place and worth a visit. It’s not easy to find. You have to drive way up into the hills towards Mt. Wailaleale, following the twisty route of the Wallua River far down below you, until you get to a little residential neighborhood that dead-ends onto Temple Lane and the monastery. You park in the shady lot and wonder why in hell anyone would ever build a Hindu monastery—or any monastery—way up here. But the answer becomes self-apparent when you get your first view of the Wailua River Valley and, in the distance, Mt. Waialeale.

Before you go through the stone archway leading to the monastery grounds, there is a six-sided pavilion where you can pick up a sarong to wear (no shorts or skirts allowed). In the middle of the pavilion is a very beautiful rose-colored granite cauldron. A nearby sign suggests that you write down “any burdens, problems, internal challenges, or confessions (not prayers)” on a piece of paper and then burn the paper in the cauldron. “Emotion will be released from the memory and difficulties eased.”

Well, I was game. The only thing was that I was having trouble deciding on just a single burden, problem, or internal challenge. There were so many of them. I wondered if you could do more than one. I wondered if you could do like a dozen. Would all those emotions still be released and my difficulties eased? God, I certainly hoped so.

In the end, I decided not to get greedy. I just wrote down two major problems, on two different pieces of paper, and burned them one after the other. Then I grabbed a sarong from the basket and headed into the garden. I can’t say that I immediately felt that my difficulties had been eased but I’m guessing that maybe it takes a good 24 hours for miracles to happen. I’ve got my fingers crossed.

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Lilo & Stitch

The Hanapepe Cafe & Bakery. All photos by David Lansing.

I never saw the movie Lilo & Stitch but according to the woman who sold me a book on the flora and fauna on Kauai at Talk Story bookstore, Hanapepe was the inspiration for the setting in the Disney movie which came out in 2002. Oh, you should rent the movie, she told me. Our bookstore, the old cinema—they’re all in the movie. Which is amazing considering it was an animated flick.

Anyway, here are some more photos I took of Hanapepe. I’d be curious to know if anyone who saw the movie recognizes the locations.

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Poke in Hanapepe

The Mele's truck in Hanapepe. Photo by David Lansing.

Every time I drive from Lihue back to my bungalow at Waimea Plantation Cottages I pass by a little sign along the side of the road pointing inland towards Hanapepe, “Kauai’s Biggest Little Town.” I’m not sure what they mean by that. The fact is that for years Hanapepe was the town on Kauai. The harbor at Port Allen was just down the way and the island airport was there. During WWII it bustled with G.I.’s and sailors preparing to go fight in the Pacific Theater. Then the war ended, the nearby sugar plantations shut down, and Hanapepe all but went away. The final blow almost came in 1992 when Hurricane Iniki all but wiped Hanapepe off the face of the earth.

But, you know, little towns like Hanapepe are resilient. They look for ways to survive. In the last twenty years, Hanapepe has transformed itself into kind of a cutesy little artistic colony. In addition to being “Kauai’s Biggest Little Town” they’re now also the art capital of Kauai. Walk along the curving main street (you can get from one end of town to the other in about five minutes) and you’ll pass boutique galleries selling handmade jewelry, dramatic photographic prints of waterfalls and crashing waves, and oil paintings of hibiscus flowers and Hawaiian sunsets.

Most of it isn’t my cup of tea but yesterday afternoon, as I strolled about, I noticed that the galleries certainly were filled with a lot of lookie-loos, if not buyers. I was more taken with Hanapepe’s other small charms: the Talk Story bookstore, the swinging bridge over the Hanapepe River (rebuilt after Hurricane Iniki destroyed the original), the Hanapepe Café and Bakery (which was doing great business), and a catering truck parked alongside the road called Mele’s Kusina where shirtless surfers and young mothers with toddlers sleeping in strollers were lined up to order Kalua pulled pork sandwiches, fish tacos and a plate called “Local Grinds” that came with rice, potatoes, and mac salad.

I ordered the #4 plate: poke bento with rice, edamame, and mac salad. It wasn’t the best poke I’ve ever had but it wasn’t bad. And I was happy just to spend the afternoon eating my grinds along the banks of the Hanapepe River in Kauai’s biggest little town.

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Heaven takes me to the Hidden Valley

Me at the Hidden Valley Falls. Photo by Heaven.

So Heaven and I paddled and paddled up the Huleia River. The channel kept getting narrower, the mangroves more dense, the mosquitoes more belligerent. I started to feel like an extra in Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. Eventually the river got so shallow that it was difficult to continue forward. Heaven said to head towards shore. We tied up to a tree and started traipsing through the jungle with Heaven pointing out all the things we could eat if we were stranded here. I was hoping that wasn’t going to be the case.

We stopped to have a look at a wild strawberry guava tree. Heaven pulled a ripe fruit off the tree and offered it to me. I broke it open. In the middle, squirming around, was a mass of white worms. I tossed the fruit to the ground. Heaven ate a couple and professed them to be the sweetest strawberry guava fruits she’d ever had.

There were different types of wild taro, sweet potatoes, shampoo ginger, and even the odd papaya tree. None of which, Heaven told me, were indigenous to Hawaii. They were all part of the original canoe plants brought over by the first Polynesians to come to the islands some 1,500 years ago. “People think of Hawaii and they think of coconut trees,” said Heaven, “but there were no coconut palms originally on the islands.”

We also came across several kukui trees. You know those black shellacked nuts that they string into leis and put around your neck when you check-in at some nice resort? That’s the kukui nut. Heaven said back in the day only Hawaiian royalty could wear a kukui nut lei. “Now you can get them at Walmart for three bucks.”

Hawaiians make a relish out of kukui nuts called inamona. They roast the nuts, mash them, and then mix them with sea salt. But you can’t eat very much of the stuff, Heaven said. “You eat a tiny bit and soon you’ll have to go to the bathroom. You eat a whole one and you’ve already gone.” She broke one open and offered to let me taste it. I declined.

Eventually, after about a mile hike, we made it to our destination: Hidden Valley Falls. Frankly, it was a little anticlimactic. The “falls” was just a thin stream of water dropping about six-feet over some mossy rocks. We took the requisite photo and then headed back down to the river along a different path. This is kind of the long way back, said Heaven. That’s okay, isn’t it?

Why not? I figure with Heaven there’s always got to be more than one way to get to the promised land.

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A rope swing over the river

Taking the plunge from a rope swing over the Huleia River. Photo by David Lansing.

As Heaven was taking me upriver we came across a group of middle-aged adults dropping like coconuts from a tall tree into the Huleia River. These were big people. With guts and granny arms and thin hair. Playing on a rope swing like little kids.

We stopped paddling for awhile to watch them. It was crazy. One woman, who looked to be in her mid-forties, wearing Daisy Mae shorts and an orange tank top, screamed as she swung out over the river. She refused to let go of the rope until she was almost back over the bank of the river and landed with a hard plop in about a foot of water, mud cratering up around her as if someone had just dumped a big boulder in the river. Several gentlemen were quickly called into action to get her out of the river muck.

Heaven told me that this was the spot where Harrison Ford made an escape from some bad guys in Raiders of the Lost Ark. “That wasn’t the rope he used,” she told me. “They took that one down but some people put up another.” And now tourists who take an ATV tour along the river, like this group, get to swing from the rope and pretend they’re Harrison Ford. Kind of nuts if you ask me.

One big ol’ guy, seeing that I had my camera out, commandeered the rope and swung out over the river with his head down by the water and his legs straight up in the air. He released the rope and did a very nice belly-flop. When he came to the surface, he asked us what we thought. “I’d give it a 9.0,” I told him. Heaven was less generous. “You get a 7.5,” she said. “I’m deducting points for doing something stupid and being old enough to know better.”

Heaven can be harsh.

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