Lodge at Koele

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Paniolo rancheros and a cocktail

There are two things I really love about the Lodge at Koele. The first is the Hawaiian Paniolo Rancheros they serve for breakfast. It’s such a mish-mash of cultures—just like the island itself. They start with slow-cooked kalua pork (kalua being the traditional Hawaiian cooking method of cooking a whole pig, covered in ti leaves, in an underground pit) which is shredded and mounded over fried rice (Chinese!) and add linguica (Portuguese!) topped with two eggs over-easy (American!) on top of a tortilla, covering the whole thing in a smoky chipotle ranchero sauce (Mexican!). I love traditional huevos rancheros but paniolo rancheros kicks butt.

photo by Macduff Everton

photo by Macduff Everton

The other thing I’ve gotten just a bit addicted to is the bar’s Shipwreck cocktail which is made with Hypnotiq, a pale blue blend of vodka, tropical fruit juices, and Cognac, mixed with pineapple juice. They go down real easy.

Of course, I try not to indulge in the Paniolo Rancheros and a Shipwreck at the same time. But since today is the last day of the year, I indulged a bit at breakfast. And I must say, they were perfect together. This might become my favorite brunch combo this summer. 

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A serene morning. Macduff, thankfully, got up at the crack of dawn to go search for petroglyphs. Alone. I take my coffee on the veranda of the Lodge watching as fast-moving clouds and fog sweep across the lush horse pasture across the road and wrap themselves in the branches of the surrounding Cook Island pines. Fat drops of water drip from the outstretched branches of the elegant looking trees. A hundred years ago, a New Zealander, George Munro, planted thousands of pines on the island after observing their ability to attract moisture from clouds passing through their boughs. Today these trees rise up over a hundred feet, all over the island, and continue to wring moisture out of the atmosphere on the rather dry isle (Maui and Molokai, nine miles away, steal most of the rain from the tradewinds before they reach Lanai).

photo by David Lansing

photo by David Lansing

I take my coffee and tiptoe across the damp lawn to an old island church being repainted a grassy green color by several workers. Also sipping coffee and leaning on an old pickup truck, idly watching the workers, is an island game warden, Derwin Kwon. We chat a bit and Derwin tells me he grew up just down the road from here in one of the white houses near a big jacaranda tree. I ask him what it was like back then.

“Well, for one thing, there were no tourists on the island when I grew up,” he says. “There were kids and outsiders who came over during the summer to pick pineapple, but that was our only interaction with people off the island.”

         As we sip our coffee and watch the men painting the church, I tell him I’m interested in stories about old Lanai, what it was like to live in such a secluded place, with just a single 10-room hotel on the whole island, while right across the channel, on Maui, all these big resorts were going up. What was it like, I ask, when Lanai produced 70% of the world’s pineapples?

         Well, it was both better…and worse, he says. “The work was hard and there wasn’t much future in it. If you were a kid growing up, you couldn’t wait to get off the island. But then again, we were a real community. When the whistle blew in the morning, everyone went to work. And when the whistle blew again, everyone went to lunch. At the end of the day, everyone got off at the same time. So you ended up doing things together, hanging out with your friends and family. Now we all have different schedules. The only time I see my friends is in the morning when we all hang out at the Blue Ginger to talk story.”

         What’s that like? I ask him.

         “Come find out for yourself,” he says. “We meet around 6 every morning.”

         Well, that’s a little early for me. But it beats getting lost on dirt roads looking for petroglyphs. So I tell Derwin to look for me tomorrow morning. I just hope I can drag my sorry ass out of bed before dawn. 

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Mr. Toad on Lanai

Macduff, his unkempt hair flying in a stiff breeze, guns the silver Jeep out of the rental car lot in Lanai City, ignoring the speed bumps, and, wheels squealing, pulls onto the narrow two-lane blacktop that constitutes Lanai Avenue. “What should we do first?” shouts the mottled-faced photographer as we pass dangerously close to a little pig-tailed girl zig-zagging on a rusty bike alongside several meandering dogs.

“I think we should check into our hotel, maybe have some sort of  tropical cocktail, and have a lazy walk around town before dinner. You know, get the lay of the land and all that.”

Macduff shoots me a look as if I’m quite mad as my Jeep, which foolishly I’ve allowed him to drive, zooms past our digs, the Lodge at Koele. From the quick glimpse I’m accorded, the Four Seasons resort looks regal and inviting in the late afternoon light, just as it did in the brochure they sent me, the sort of place where one could sit peacefully in a wicker chair on the veranda and, as the copy reads, “Relax at the end of the day with a Lava Flow or Ship Wreck cocktail.” No idea what those might be, but I’m willing to find out.

The Lodge at Koele                                   photo by David Lansing

The Lodge at Koele photo by David Lansing

But it’s a moot point as the Jeep goes airborne over a slight rise in the road and the hotel, with its 10-foot tall mural of a pineapple over the entry, vanishes behind a row of swaying pine trees.

“You missed the turnoff,” I shout.

“The light, the light!” Macduff screams through the wind. “Look at the light! We’ve only got an hour or so…must…hurry!”

Macduff stares at the map on his lap while steering with his thighs. The Jeep veers off the highway and onto the red cinder shoulder. Rocks fly. The Jeep fishtails. Three or four wild turkeys, which had been peacefully pecking at insects along the side of the road a few minutes ago, hurl themselves recklessly into the thick undergrowth, terrorized beyond belief. Macduff mutters an obscenity at the fleeing birds, shoves the map between his legs, jerks the car back onto the road, and smiles at me, completely ignoring our near-disastrous brush with death.

“I think there are petroglyphs somewhere over there,” he shouts, stabbing at the flapping map with a stubby finger as the Jeep teeters, like a drunk, on two wheels. “Imagine—petroglyphs!”

I grab the map out of his lap. “You drive,” I tell him. “I’ll navigate. And for godsakes, slow down!”

“Hah!” he says, yanking the wheel sideways as we go off the paved road and onto a rocky dirt road with a sign that says “WARNING! Deep Sand!” This must be one of the roads Shantell had stamped NOT ACCESSIBLE.

”Look,” I tell Macduff as we plow through a sandy pothole, “it says the road is closed.”

Macduff gives me the stink-eye. “Only to mere mortals,” he says. “I’ve driven Jeeps on trails only a donkey could muster,” he says, and then goes off on some story about a trip to Tonga or someplace where he navigated a 4-wheel drive vehicle across a pontoon bridge made out of coconuts. “Now that was a nasty road,” he says, delighted with himself. “This is nothing.”

And with that, Mr. Toad veers off the road, barely avoiding a rock at least a foot-high, and into the bush where we proceed to plow down a field of waist-high ferns. “Hang on!” he warns me. “It could get interesting!”

I fear he is right.

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