Disclaimer: I had a lot of time to think and thoughts coming up while I stayed on beautiful Kaua’i. So if this blog post gets a bit longer in text please forgive me.
Arriving in Kauai feels small, a bit slower and like I have to set my clock back about 30 years.
I want to grab a coffee at the airport but there are no shops at all. Only a rooster follows me out off the baggage claim. I try to walk to town but there is no way or lights for peds. Finally I get an Uber to pick me up at the highway outside the airport and take me to my private rental car. Despacito is on the radio, again. I have to laugh. This is gonna be fun.
Camping permits, rental car and island vibes – Kaua’i style
I’m sitting in the civic center with pen and paper and fill out a camping permit. It’s retro but nice that there is no online registration. Although this meant that I had to sleep in the 70$ Airbnb last night – for a bed not the whole apartment. The six nights camping will cost me 40$. In total.
Camping and hiking, these are my main reasons for Kaua’i. (And because Lilo & Stitch live on Kaua’i.) It’s the oldest of the Hawaiian islands and the one with the most impressive nature – at least what I know so far.
My Turo – an app like airbnb for cars – rental car is an old Subaru Forrester. It still has a cassette player. After being spoiled by the new car on Maui this is so manual. But as soon as I start the engine and head with the sunrise in my rear mirror out of town I feel this is gonna be good.
“Take life one cup at a time” the sign at the coffee truck of Small Twin Coffee Co. says. I still love to find these small but brilliant coffee shops all around the world. And I can’t describe the feeling of freedom I have being seated outside in the sun with a good coffee. Driving shirtless in my old but gold rental car, alone on my way around, stopping in towns, at beaches, I’m walking along coasts and try to slow down.
“If Kauai embraces you, it permits you to remain as long as you desire. However, unless the island feels you are pure of heart and come with authentic intentions, it will spit you out.” is a Hawaiian saying I learned. And I really hope it embraces me.
One week alone on Kaua’i.
The Sleeping Giant Trail
I admit the name of the trail got me to do it. It’s a fun short trail with climbing and rocky parts, a nice view on top and no rails left and right. On the picture below you can see the giant’s face gaze set on the ocean.
Kaua’i is called the Jurassic Park Island as many shots – as well as for Jurassic World – were filmed here. When I explored the nature via trails or just by passing by with my car I could see why.
Its always difficult to stay on the designated trail in Hawaii as so many people before walked around the path or just straight up to the hill. I never got lost in New Zealand or anywhere else so far. Here I got lost several times. But made it in the end via unofficial shortcuts.
You think it’s another short touristy one? Well, I did. But not this time! It has mud, steep and narrow passages, ropes to hold onto and always the thought “is this still the trail?”
I was reminded several times of Stewart Island and my hike there as I walked, balanced and crouched through the bushes.
“Are there any snakes here?” hit me once or twice. But I just saw strangely shaped spiders webbing their cobs across the path always at the height of my face. That’s why having a branch to hold in front of the face is really helpful when I made my way through. And when I finally got to a rock where no rope nor way seemed to bring me over safely I just called it a day and walked back. A lovely lady in her 70s told me in a short chat on the way back that I had gotten a bit further than she did but she was disappointed that I couldn’t make it as well.
The Kalalau Trail
A wonderful mystical and challenging hike along the spectacular cliffs of Kauai is the Kalalau Trail. You feel like being in a lost world and no matter the time of the day there’s always mist around the cliffs from the huge waves rolling in at a steady rhythm.
The sun has just risen as I get my car parked and my stuff packed. I slept the night in the car close by on a camping ground. I can feel the excitement to do this trail.
It’s an 11 miles in and 11 miles out hike over rough trails sometimes just following a foot wide edge along the stone walls. Most people stay two nights at the beach in the end of the trail. I had just one night and wanted to get out the next day. I like the walks, not the resting at destinations if I’m alone.
As I check for the last things and get my boots laced a man walks over to me. “Are you doing the full hike in?” he asks and I reply “If I make it yes.” He hands me an envelope and asks if I can give this to someone who lives in there. At the beach at the end of the trail. “His name is George. Or Uncle T they call him.” “Sure.” He thanks me and leaves the parking lot with his car. Someone who lives in there… This hike is something special already.
While I watched the waves fighting each other by pulling out and pushing in at the same time I thought I could see horses in them – like Arwen’s Elvish river magic in the Lord of the Rings. New Zealand. It seems so longs ago already since I was there. Today I had to think a couple of times of NZ and Stewart Island.
The 6 1/2 hours walk – totally off the grid – in a mix of easy and quite challenging parts with the ever ongoing sound of the big waves crushing against the cliffs made me tired. The shower underneath the waterfall cooled down. Watching the waves while chewing on tortilla wraps and hummus was meditation.
The only slightly annoying sound was the constant chop chop of helicopters flying the well paying tourists along the coast.
“Are you from here?” That question I received when chatting to a couple of new arrivers made me pretty sure about going to the hairdresser soon and getting a trim of my beard. Nearly 1 1/2 weeks into camping and 5 months into travelling – with mostly the same clothes – has left its traces. When I look at nice and neat pictures of me from the early summer I have to laugh. I look so different now. Hope I can keep the wild and adventurous look even when I pour myself back into city life.
The night passed by way too fast and around 7 am it was time again to pack my tent, air mattress and sleeping bag to start the return.
And during the hike back I suffered a lot. I started early to avoid the heat in the first part of the day. But as yesterday had been a quite chilly windy day, today was the opposite. The demanding trail took time. So much. The last 2 miles I thought I would just collapse – and hey, I’m just slightly exaggerating here. The heat got me. The many lovely small chats I had when meeting people going the other direction, their different approaches to the hike and their gratitude for what they’re experiencing distracted me and made me think a lot.
Maybe my travels so far have nothing to do with inspiration and motivation for the next job. Maybe it’s more about getting rid of fear of living. And to meet many different people who make their way through life in such different and inspiring ways.
I arrived with lots of breaks and breathing around 3 pm in the parking lot. It took me about 2 hours more to get back than in although the return was supposed to be the easier one. I caught my breath, got into the car and drove back to the camping place where I started the day before to get a proper shower, fresh clothes and before all that an ice cold Coca-Cola to help me get rid of exhaustion and headache. It always works. What a magical hike that was.
A false missile alert
To begin with, I missed it. I was on the Kalalau trail far ahead from civilization and mobile service and must have reached the off the grid zone just in time. People wrote me afterwards, concerned about what I experienced being far away from home. My mom, my brother, friends. And I just missed it. Maybe good that I did. It would have freaked me out.
People around me talk about the alarm, about how important it was to have someone loved around. Or to know them save at some other place. Some said they just continued their breakfast to have something in their bellies for later on, some took selfies or got themselves a bottle of whiskey and went to the ocean.
A mother of a twelve year old girl described to me how she started literally preparing for the missile with filling every water bottle in the house, unfreezing and cooking food and finally getting towels wet to hide underneath them. “You can’t imagine what I got done in these 38 minutes. Afterwards I thought why do we have this moron that makes us so afraid to actually believe such a false message?”
And all the while I was on the for me safest place on Kaua’i behind massive stone walls – and the safest place for my mind as well. On that evening I lied down in my tent and let my thoughts wander. Even if it was a false alert what would I have done in the 38 minutes until they lifted it? Maybe driven to the ocean because I love the view. And maybe texted a couple of loving messages. Just in case. Things people know already. And things I haven’t said out loud yet.
It’s a weird thought really. And it kept me lying awake for a while until I could shift off to sleep.
The last weeks it was an emotional up and down with me. Some part is still restless. Some is frightened of the melting budget and the next job. Some part just needs a home. Travelling is exciting but not everything. And inspiration hits me when I expect it the least. Like being halfway on a hike in the forest. Somewhere in the middle of nowhere. I had one very inspiring moment during the Okolehau trail when I stopped in tracks and stood in the woods. I felt energy and motivation to find a more creative job. I felt connected and positive. When I left the woods and got back into the car it was gone again.
I miss having a good spot to work on it. „Good spot“ meaning a Coffee Shop with wifi and room to write for example. Somewhere to sit down and work on ideas. Somewhere with someone to talk about ideas. I believe I’ll get this once I’m in California. I believe I’ll get a home for a time.
Cruising, swimming, Salt Lake Pond.
Relaxing after the long hiking days I explored the coast down to the south, stopped in small towns, got good coffee and splendid views before I had a lazy afternoon and evening at my camping ground. So far I always arrived quite late at camping grounds, just for sleeping there and not hanging around. But this time I liked just watching the ocean while sitting in the shade of my tent.
Waimea Canyon and Kok’e State Park
The roosters at the camping ground decided for my sleep to be over around 5:30 am. I still tried hard for another 30 minutes but my thoughts kept going back to making fried chicken too often so I decided to get up, pack everything in the car and do an even earlier start to the canyon road that I had planned.
I mumble on peanut butter and tortilla wraps. The last night I was haunted by a lot of thoughts and frights about future. I lay awake for an hour in the middle of the night trying to relax again. Some cashew nuts helped. “I can’t decide for the next steps right now”, I tell myself while I drive to my road trip playlist along the canyon road. The sun starts to rise a brief look in the rear mirror tells me. I wind the window down and breathe in the cold and fresh air from outside.
The morning views, bird calls and chilly air I get in Grand Canyon’s little Pacific brother have been beautiful and rewarding for the rough and early start. I follow a path down into the canyon for a while and just sit there for an hour doing nothing except listening to birds and feeling the cool air.
On the way back I have a short stop at the remnants of one of the three Russian Forts on Kaua’i. Yeah, Russian forts build in the beginning of the 19th century. On a Hawaiian island. This world keeps surprising me.
Road thoughts and goodbye
I bite into a nice shrimp burrito from a Mexican food truck in between the restaurants in Kapa‘aa. It’s interesting how you start not caring about so many things anymore while traveling. It was so difficult to decide what to pack and what not and now I’m already on the road with the same things my 50 liter backpack could fit in for nearly 5 months. Only my clothes changed slightly as I had two throw two things away which were replaced by a couple of free things I got in the hostels leftovers.
It’s the same with food. To afford the rental cars I have a very simple food routine – even less variety than in New Zealand – with mostly peanut butter, tuna and hummus with tortilla wraps. Maybe some cheese. It’s cheap, you don’t need a fridge (for a couple of days) and gives you everything you need. And if you take these for two meals a day there’s money for a burrito or something else at a good food truck.
Although even shampoo is overrated when you’re using ocean and freshwater I have to say it’s definitely time for a proper haircut and trim. I start getting invites for “free meals” from a Christian group on the island.
The last morning on Kaua’i was calm and I was ready to leave the island and the many thoughts it brought up in me. After returning the car I decided to walk the 10 miles to Lihu’e and the airport, mostly among remote beaches. “I’ve done so much camping and hiking like in the last 20 years all together,” is a thought that makes me chuckle. And I think I will be back. I hope so.
Mahalo, Kaua’i, you took my heart by surprise.