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How to Have a Great Time in Kaua'i

I just got back from 10 days on the island of Kaua'i, in Hawaii. And here is what I learned about how to have a good time in Kaua'i:

1.) Pack Appropriate Footwear. In general, all you're going to need in Kaua'i is a bathing suit, a pair of shorts, a shirt, a hat, and some sunglasses. But the footwear thing is key. I recommend at least a pair of flip-flops, a pair of "ocean shoes" like aqua-socks or something that cover your toes (Tevas won't do), a pair of loafers or street shoes, and a pair of hiking boots. Yes, that's four pairs of shoes. Why? Flip-flops for beach and poolside lounging. Ocean-shoes because everywhere you go on Kaua'i, including a few feet into the ocean, where you cannot see them, there are these cute, cuddly volcanic rocks that while they may look pretty will gladly cut a gash in your foot or lift one of your toe-nails off at the slightest provocation. After 10 days of wearing only moderately appropriate footwear, my feet look like I have marched across Europe with the Roman army, barefoot. Each knick and cut and bruise and gash tells the painful story of a mishap or mis-kick or ill-advised trip into the ocean. Bring the street shoes in case you go out. And the hiking boots because there are loads of great hiking trails on the island that you'll want to check out.

2.) Stay Hydrated. You will sweat. A lot. You will sweat sitting by the beach. You will sweat laying in your bed. You will sweat in the ocean. You will swallow salt water. You will (probably) drink alcohol, because you're on vacation. Therefore, if you're like me and you already sweat like a pig, you will need to to double, triple, hell quintuple the amounts of water you drink on a daily basis. Set new records. Push new boundaries. But hydrate, I tell you! Drink water like they're going to stop making the stuff. Then drink some more. I recommend many of the fine bottled waters available, artesian and otherwise. The tap water in Kaua'i is a little sweet and chemically.

3.) Have a Relative or Close Friend Who Lives on Kaua'i. This one is an absolute MUST. I recommend having a relative or close family friend who has lived in Kaua'i for at least 10 years and will put you up for free and squire you about the island in order to show you all of the best hiking, camping, and beach spots that only the most kamaaina of kamaaina know about. Don't have a relative or close family friend who lives in Kaua'i? Don't worry! You'll most likely spend your precious and extremely expensive trip driving around in your air conditioned rental car squinting at your GPS or mumbling to yourself as you pay $15 for a weak pina colada at your resort.

"Nah, I'm good. But go ahead in! I'll be on shore
writing your obituary."
4.) Do Not Go Snorkeling in Heavy Chop. Found this one out the hard way, after swallowing and/or inhaling about a gallon of sea water and swimming as hard as I could, in place, at the convergence of two breakers, all while having a panic attack, and being about 10 yards from shore. Thus ending my fascination with snorkeling for a while. I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say, if you're a land lubber like me, maybe don't even go in the Pacific ocean any deeper than ankle level when there's any kind of surf. Period. My experience of the ocean was, until this trip, limited to the Atlantic, which, I have discovered, is a whole different ballgame than the Pacific. The Atlantic is like warm bathtub. The Pacific (whose name paradoxically means "peaceful in nature or intent") seems to me to be a vast, blue, pounding meat-grinder of a body of water, incessantly intent on chewing up and spitting out anything that dares venture any further than a few feet into it. Yeah, it's pretty and all, from a distance. But very soon after you enter into it and your feet lift off the bottom, you feel this creeping sensation that you are no longer in control, of anything, and that every moment from here on out until you touch ground again (and even when you touch ground) is going to be a struggle for your life.

5.) Adopt Local Customs and Language. Do you have a shaka? Do you know what a shaper is? Do you know about haole? Do you know the advantages of a single fin vs. a dual fin vs. a tri-fin? Can you name the five main inhabited Hawaiian Islands? you even know what aloha means, bree?? Don't worry about it. That doesn't mean you can't pretend like you know! Being immersed in an ancient, Pacific, outdoors-loving, sea-faring culture, you are going to hear all sorts of words and terms you've never heard before. I highly recommend incorporating them into your own speech liberally and at will, and then Wikipedia-ing them at some point just to make sure you are using them correctly. It's okay, because you don't know anyone in Kaua'i who know what an a-hole you sound like anyway! And it's FUN to use new words! Language is a gift. Use it.

Part of Waimea Canyon...and some bushes.
6.) Do Not Catch a Cold. Having a cold sucks, period. But try being laid up with a cold while you're a.) on your ONE vacation per year, b.) in paradise and would rather be doing anything but laying on your side sucking on cough drops and sneezing, c.) in a tropical climate on the edge of the Western Hemisphere in which the words "air conditioning" do not seem to have any meaning, and in which your thick, Northeastern blood has no idea how to properly rid itself of toxins. Yeah. Not fun. So I've heard.

7.) Dig In. By obeying rule number three, I had a distinct advantage. But if I didn't, my advice to myself (or anyone else who doesn't have anyone in Kaua'i to show them around) would be to do some serious homework in order to make the most of your Kaua'i trip. More than perhaps any other island, Kaua'i seems like it would be a difficult nut to crack. It's covered with beautiful parks and beaches, and few resorts or characteristically "touristy" things to do. In fact, it's even kind of remarkable that tourists make it here at all, as evidenced by the fact that the question I was asked most was, "How did you find out about Kaua'i?" as though it's some kind of secret or something. And, it sort of is. But even if you "find out" about it, you've merely made it to the starting line. And honestly, if what you want to do is lay around by the pool or the beach and drink mixed drinks, and go to luaus and stuff like that (which is awesome, don't get me wrong), you can just as easily do that in Honolulu or Maui or anywhere else. What I am saying is, Kaua'i is a special place, an outlier among these outlying islands. To come to Kaua'i with no intention of doing outdoor activities like hiking and kayaking seems like a bit of a waste of time and money. And one more thing: If you do have any intention of getting off the beaten path in Kaua'i, rent a Jeep or an SUV. Some of the roads on this island have potholes the size of Soldier Field. I can't even count the number of sedans and compact cars I saw trying to make their way, at less than a mile per hour, over roads which anything but a military tank would have trouble negotiating. Managers of rental car offices on Kaua'i must drink a lot of Pepto-Bismol.


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