Friday, November 26, 2010

Who wants adventure when you can just keep speaking English? Why everybody should go to Hawaii.

Every single time I go to a tropical destination I end up on the toilet for at least 10% of the trip. This is not an exageration. This is the unfortunate truth.

Wanting some sun, a bit of relaxation and some adventure without difficulty, we decided on a trip to Hawaii. Kauai specifically. Yes, fear of the toilet sent me to Hawaii. Here's why you should go/what you should do when you get there.

Marvel at the chickens
Chickens everywhere.

Rent a convertible Mustang

Half of all Kauai seems to be travelling in one of two cars: A Toyota pick-up truck or a convertible Mustang. I'll let you guess which one contains the tourists.

Ordinarily, I would not be caught dead in a convertible Mustang. It's a mid-life crisis coated with a thick layer of processed cheese. Too much for me. However, the rental car company did not have the agreed upon budget sub-compact in stock, so we were faced with a free upgrade into either a: Mazda 6, Hardtop Mustang or the Convertible. I mean, you'd be kind of stupid not to take the convertible, right?
And thank God for my ability to send my pride packing back to Canada. I learned to love the Mustang. I embraced the freedom of no roof and pretty much refused to drive anywhere with the top up. It should come with no top at all, as far as I'm concerned. The benefits? Well, with the top down you can actually see where you're driving! (There's some nasty blind spots with the roof up) Want to take a photograph? Of anything? Just stick the camera in the air and fire away.

Hawaii needs to be experienced in a convertible.

Go Snorkeling

I'm ordinarily frightened of fish. I actually don't like swimming where there is anything living that can potentially touch or brush up against me. Weeds. Fish. Small children. Anything. I prefer a nice lake devoid of any creature or plant. But that all changes when you go to Hawaii. There are so many reefs and they're all filled with fish. Big fish. Little fish. Bright fish. Dull fish. And somehow, they're not scary. They do their thing, you watch and everything is okay. Your best bet is to probably bring your own mask and snorkel (or buy them there at any of the numerous dive shops) and rent flippers so they don't take up all of your luggage space.

Even better...

Take a boat ride up the Napali Coast and out to Ni'ihau for even better snorkeling

There are seemingly hundreds of tour guides that will take your money, put you in a boat and haul you up the Napali Coast and back. There are only two that will do the same trip but include a side trip out to Ni'ihau. And there is only one company that offers these trips up daily. You'll pay a lot no matter how you do it and the Ni'ihau jaunt will add a few dollars to the total, but the extra dollars are definitely worth it.
First of all, you'll see dolphins. The water out near Ni'ihau is crawling with dolphins. We did see a couple frolicking in the waves up on the Napali, but nothing compared to Ni'ihau. It was like somebody had kept those poor little guys in a cage for a week straight and just let them out for 10 minutes while our boat travelled through the area. Dolphin pandemonium. Jumping. Diving. Spinning (they are Spinner Dolphins, after all). They went crazy. It was awesome.
Next, you'll get some great snorkeling. We parked off the coast of Lehua (an even smaller island just off the coast of Ni'ihau) and got some fantastic snorkeling in about 25 feet of water. Huge schools of fish. All sorts of starfishy and urchiny things. A seal even sauntered through the area for a while.
Throw in the sunrise, dramatic Napali Coast views, the decent lunch spread and the free-flowing booze on the return ride home (I had one beer, but there was this pretty old guy that was pounding them back) and this becomes a really easy decision.
Stay in the South

We ended up in Poipu because all the guide books told us to. More sun. Less fearsome surf. Etc. While not perfect, there are many reasons to stay in Poipu. First and foremost is that you're never more than an hour-and-a-half from any point on the island. The "problem" with Kauai is that there is no road that goes all the way around the island. The Northernmost road and the Westernmost road end no more than 12 or so miles from one another, but it will probably take you at least 2 hours or more to get from one to the other. If you stay near either of these points you most likely won't be able to experience the opposite side of the island. If you stay in Poipu, everything is a fairly manageable drive. However...

Stay in the North

The North is just so beautiful. Better beaches. Better surf (in the winter). More animals. Less tourists. The only reason we didn't stay in the North is that all the guide books warned us about the excessive rain, treacherous surf, angry locals and land-adapted sharks. From what we saw, the books are full of crap. You won't be able to make it to some of the Southern/Western sights (Waimea Canyon, etc.) but it might be worth the trade-off.

Surf in Hanalei Bay

Every book/website/guy on the corner seemed to warn about the angry locals, overly large waves and hungry sharks of Hanalei Bay. We decided to surf there anyhow.

We rented gear from Hawaiian Surfing Adventures. It's perfect. Cheap rates. Right on the Beach. Half-owned by a Canadian. We ended up on some large, soft-top boards because we didn't see the huge rack of standard boards hiding behind them. Oh well. They helped keep us somewhat dry on the 15 minute paddle out to the (serious) waves. (there are some kiddie waves lapping the shore closer in)

Once we got out to the waves, it was the friendliest local scene I've ever experienced. Keep to the sidelines for 10 minutes or so, see how things go, don't step on any toes and the locals will become more than helpful. Pretty quickly I had people cheering me on every time I paddled for a wave. Once I finally got up, I almost collided with some other dude before I figured out he was there and made a quick turn. When I apologized he said "No problem! Take as many as you want, I'm out here every day." It was refreshing.

While we were out there, we ran in to Mitchell, the non-Canadian half of the Hawaiin Surfing Adventures ownership. He paddled over, hopped in the water and coached us on to several waves. It was fantastic. We ended our day with some wonderful tacos/burritos from Pat's Taqueria which quietly sits waiting for you in the parking lot.

Eat at Banana Joe's Fruit Stand

Banana Joe's is just North of Kilaueau, so you will drive right by it if you head to the North. Banana Joe's offers up some local food products and a small kitchen that produces magic. Hand written on some small signs on the wall is the days menu of smoothies and frosties. There's usually 2 options for each. The smoothie is self explanatory and you're welcome to waste your life and order one of these. The real action is on the frostie. The Banana Joe's frostie goes on my list of "Best things that I've ever put in my mouth." Nothing more than frozen fruit blended into an ice cream like consistency, the frostie provides a taste explosion that is so beyond the sum of its parts its like a hydrogen bomb created by mixing a couple of firecrackers with some lighter fluid. Alchemy. A taste sensation. Get one after going to the...

Kilaueau Lighthouse and Nature Preserve

I've always wanted to see an Albatross. I never thought that when I finally saw an Albatross it would be overshadowed by hundreds of equally large frigate birds.
Pay your 10 dollars and check out the views from the Lighthouse. If you're lucky you'll get to experience the Frigate Birds dive-bombing. If they poop on you it's good luck. Lots and lots of good luck

Paddle Surf at Kalapaki Beach

Right in the heart of Lihue is Kalapaki Beach. This is the friendliest surf in town and it's not terribly crowded as it sits wedged between the shipyard and downtown. The surf was small, so we rented stand up paddle boards.

Stand up surfing seems almost perfect for the person comfortable with standing up on a surfboard, not 100% certain how to read waves and not in good enough shape to paddle a surfboard around for more than an hour. So, pretty much made for me.

We surfed for an hour-and-a-half until my leash broke and I almost got run over/into a fist fight with an angry local after getting stranded into the middle of the set. Who would have thought the aggro locals would show up on the baby set in front of a large hotel?

Drive up the Waimea Canyon. Perhaps go for a hike

There are some beautiful beaches on the west coast. Above them is the Waimea Canyon. You can drive to the top and get some spectacular views of both the canyon and the Napali Coast. There are countless hikes, but you need to choose wisely. Some of them are quite long and you can't see much from the trees.


Eat at the Shrimp Station

Right at the bottom of the road to the Waimea is the Shrimp Station. Go for a battered and fried option. And then...

Eat at the Koloa Fish Market (or the Deli next door)

Maybe not right afterwards. But at some point, you should try some of the different Poke or a giant sandwich from the deli.

Hang out on Aliomanu Beach

It's not too difficult to find but it will take some doing. I think the locals hid the "Beach Access" signs. Probably halfway between Ka'paa and Kilaeau. Both times we went it was deserted. No surf and decent snorkeling. Although, Andrea saw some sort of giant eel/piece of seaweed and got out pretty fast.

Paddle the Wailua River

This was the last thing we did before we got on the airplane. You can check out the river from the lookout at Opeaka'a Falls on the hill above the valley. We actually drove halfway up the valley and rented from the Hawaiian Village beneath the falls. 90% of the other people
had to paddle up from the mouth. As a result, we were able to paddle up past the usual attractions and see a nice deserted stretch of river.
There's a nice 20 minute hike in to (not so) Secret Falls. There's the Fern Grotto. That's about it. But it's just nice to get on to a calm piece of water and see some of the interesting shrubbery up close.

Check out Wailua Falls

Just outside of Poipu is Wailua Falls. The falls are kind of dull, but there's some nice views of the hills on the drive up. As well, there's a troupe of basket weavers that hang out and give away baskets if you look friendly. No joke. We forced 5 dollars upon them for the first one and they gave us another in return. I felt like an idiot hauling them home on the airplane, but that's the price you pay as a tourist.

Monday, November 8, 2010

This is easily the most scared I have ever been in my life

It seems like there are two culturally acceptable ways to really scare the crap out of yourself: Bungee jumping and skydiving. There's other far more frightening things that one can do in life, but they are generally fringe activities that involve watermelon sized cojones and well developed law avoidance techniques. I've long thought that skydiving doesn't seem so bad (the potential impact seems distant and avoidable) but bungee jumping has always seemed like something that would really scare the hell out of me. I guess sometimes we do indeed have some sense of ourselves.

So, yesterday, after determining the weather would cooperate, Andrea and I figured that a nice bungee jump would be the best way to celebrate my birthday (hooray for me!). We hopped in the car and slowly made our way up to Whistler, making stops along the way.

Lesson 1 - There's some nice sights on the way up to Whistler when you're not in a rush.

We stopped at both the falls near Squamish and at the eagle viewing area in Brackendale. The falls are a nice, quick little walk into the woods and offer a spectacular view of lots of falling water. The eagle viewing offered a view of some glorious fall colours, a few confused aquatic mammals (seals?), lots of dogs and a couple of eagles. This was essentially a scouting run for later in the eagle season. Both are worth the detour.
Eventually, we arrived at Whistler Bungee. The turn-off is about 20 seconds down the road from the entrance to the Olympic Nordic Center. It's a few kilometers in to the bungee zone and left me yearning for rear wheel drive and no passengers. Eventually, the bungee jumping bridge looms overhead, you park your car and hike yourself to the top.

Lesson 2 - Bungee jumping places want you to think you are fat.

Seriously. They must add at least 10 pounds on to their scale. There's no way I weigh that much. No way.

The bridge spans the canyon and there are some lovely viewing areas on the far side. We hiked around for a bit and watched from a distance as others jumped. It really did not seem scary to me at this point.
We hiked back on to the bridge and watched some dudes jump. Andrea decided at this point that she would go first, or else she probably wouldn't go at all. In hindsight, this was probably best for all of us.

Lesson 3 - Australians and New Zealanders love this kind of stuff.

Drive around New Zealand and it's amazing how creatize they are in figuring out ways to disrepect nature and turn it in to a carnival ride. The abundance of Australians at Whistler Bungee hints that perhaps New Zealand does not have a monopoly on this behaviour.

Lesson 4 - Things can progress with uncomfortable rapidity.

There you are, standing on this giant bridge. Then they just kind of throw a harness on you and you're ready to go. Andrea got strapped in and I still had no real feelings of what was coming. I took a few prep photos and then she was strapped in and out on the edge. Quick countdown and she was off. Screaming the whole way down, but holding remarkable form. The Aussies seemed to be genuinely impressed that she elected to go head first and that she held her swan dive all the way to the bottom. Guess which one is the professional shot!
Lesson 5 - Terror can set in very quickly.

There was one guy set up to jump before me, and then it was my turn to get strapped in. Things began to abruptly change. In a matter of seconds, I went from not really worrying or thinking about things to having genuine thoughts of not being able to go through with this. I really started to feel a bit scared. The Aussies start to lay it on pretty thick with feigned incompetence and doomsday scenario instructions. I honestly was just not paying attention to what they were saying.

So there you are, strapped in, a bungee tied to your chest hands pushing you out on to the little diving board. It's humourous to watch the Aussies manhandle the petrified tourists out in to the jumping position and it would probably have been impossible for me to go through with it without the expert handling of this crew. Terrified is not a strong enough word. The mind becomes incapable of even coming up with an excuse for going through with it. You're out on this tiny little platform, there's a burly Australian blocking your path of return, there's people ahead of you (girls even!) that were strong enough to go through with it, there's this gaping hole of water staring back up at's beyond terror. It's fear of failure battling fear of death. It's your mind telling you that this is incredibly stupid while at the same time telling you that many people have done this before you and you will be okay. It's unnatural.

Lesson 6 - Go backwards.

On the drive up, my thoughts were on maximizing the experience. "How do I get the most of a 20 second experience?" I worried that I might miss out on the full impact. I worried that it would be over with too quickly. I stupidly decided that head first was the best way to go.

I stood there, peering off this massively tall structure. The countdown started and I was 100% certain that I would not be able to go through with it. It's down to three and your mind is peeing it's pants with terror. The countdown is over and there's absolutely no choice other than to George Bush (plunge in headfirst with no thoughts of the consequences) or Michael Ignatieff (explain away your failure with long-winded, verbiose claims of superiority). I jumped.
This is where "go backwards" becomes advice that you should take. It's easy to hold your shit together for the first few seconds of freefall. Then your feet start drifting higher and higher above your head and you THINK YOU WILL DIE! It does not matter that you know something is tied to you. The earth is coming at you faster and faster. Even if that cord does manage to hold you, your body is not in the right position. Things are going to go badly. If I hadn't peed beforehand I would have wet myself. My arms started flailing. I was not at my best. This is actually the precise moment that I really thought I might die, captured from two different angles.
Eventually, things start to sort themselves out. You're not facing down anymore. You're not really sure what direction you're facing. You're no longer going down, but it still feels completely wrong and scary. They say that the best feeling is at the top of the first bounce, but at this point I have not regained my faculties enough to in any way comprehend that this is an enjoyable moment. Around here I gripped the big puffy end of the bungee like a scared baby. "Don't put your arms anywhere in front of you" I remember them saying up top, but I don't care. I just don't care at all. I grip it and I'm scared and I'm not ashamed to admit it.

Lesson 7 - It eventually gets better.

It finally reaches a point where things aren't so bad. I relax my arms a bit. I become conscious of my shrunken cojones pinched in my harness/jean diaper. I let out a wail of relief and profanities. I feel good about life. I bounce around for a while and become conscious of how stupid I just looked, how pathetic my jump was and how I'm really only half a man. I don't really care though.

Eventually, they hoist you back up and things feel better and you get a bit of a crazed look in your eyes. Ya, I have a moustache.