Friday, May 18, 2012

Mia's First Carousel Ride

On Mother's Day, we took Mia to Como Park and Zoo for a picnic, a visit to the animals (her favorite seemed to be the giraffes, but then she got a whiff of something and said "p-u!"), and her first carousel ride(s)! She is only tall enough to do one ride at the Como Town amusement park (she's close!), but she could ride the beautiful old carousel. I took her for her first ride, and initially she wanted to sit in the chariot and not on a horse, but I convinced her to give the horse a try. She was still a little concerned, but I promised to stay with her and hold on tight - and then she started moving and LOVED it! So much so, that when we were done, she had to ride again with daddy! We had to bribe her with the thought of ice cream to get her to leave!



Oh, and Mother's day started off nice and quiet - Mia and I even enjoyed some computer time at the dining room table (she brought hers in to join me after I had been working on mine for awhile...).  She didn't keep quiet for very long, though, as she started playing and dancing to "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes!"

I mentioned earlier that later this day, Mia dislocated and possibly broke her elbow and ended up in a cast (big purple bracelet) the next day. Last night, just to add to our crazy week, she fell down the steps on our deck and gave herself a massive bump and bruise - evidently her balance is a little off from the cast.  Poor thing.  She looks like a brute!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Hawaii, part two: Kaua'i

From http://alohatopten.com/island_pages/kauai.php, for reference.

Sunday:
Our plane ride to Kaua'i from Oahu took a whopping 30 minutes - and that included boarding, take off, fly time, landing, and getting back into the Lihue airport! From there, we had to figure out how to get our rental vehicle. David had decided to reserve us a car from a local rental dealer, Island Cars. This dealership was considerably cheaper than the national chains, but we weren't entirely sure what we were getting ourselves into as their website when we were booking the vehicle claimed things like "Don't come here if you are looking for a nice car - our vehicles are beaten up, but they will get you from place to place." or "You don't have to worry about someone breaking into your rental vehicle because you will look like a local with our cars." Although we had some slight reservations about going with them, we decided to give it a shot. When we got to the Lihue, Kaua'i airport, though, there was no sign of Island Cars. Turns out, they don't want to pay the airport fee, so after calling a few times to get someone to pick up, we found that we had to take a taxi to their off-site lot. After a $10 taxi ride, we arrived at Island Cars. This is what we left with: a 4x4 Ford Explorer, with a massive dent in the back (so much so, that the back door wouldn't hold itself open and David had to hold it over his head while we loaded our luggage in and out of the vehicle), a "manual" window on the driver's side - ie, David had to pull his window up and down, no radio antenna, holes in the upholstery, missing cruise buttons on the steering wheel, the list went on and on! However, we paid $90 cash for the entire 4 days we had the vehicle! So, including the $10 taxi ride, we got a rental 4x4 vehicle (that no one considered breaking into - we literally left it unlocked almost the entire time we were there!), and a free ride (in the same vehicle) back to the airport at the end of our stay. Not too shabby. The only real problem we had with the vehicle was when, after our first stop, we locked the doors. When we came back after lunch, my door wouldn't unlock or open. No matter what we did, we couldn't get the damn thing to open. So I spent the rest of the time crawling over David's seat to get to mine. It drove me a little nuts, but for the cost, we couldn't complain! Plus, we now have stories to tell about the rental that we won't ever forget!


 We were always kind of worried (rightfully so) that David's side wouldn't open, either! Lucky for us, it always did!

The lushness of Kaua'i, compared to what we had experience in Oahu, was amazing! Everything was green, it felt like we were driving through a tropical jungle at times! After picking up our vehicle, we drove from Lihue (the main town, with the airport) down to Poipu Beach, where we had rented a one-room cottage on VRBO. We weren't sure when we could "check in," so we found the place and then decided to grab an early lunch before dropping our stuff off. The funny thing about Poipu Beach (especially after being in Waikiki) was that there aren't a ton of restaurants, or even a main "strip!" There are major resorts, like the Hyatt, and most of them have a restaurant or two, but other than that it was hard to find a place that wasn't a big, fancy steak or seafood place. Since were were just looking to grab lunch, we went to Brennecke's Beach Broiler, which was just down the street from our cottage. It was a typical bar and grill, but we enjoyed some yummy sandwiches, mai tais, and our view of the ocean. It was in the parking lot here that we realized my door wasn't going to open (ever again...). I crawled across the seat, and we headed back to our cottage to get settled in.

Our cottage was actually in the backyard of a home, so the owners actually rent out the home and the cottage, individually. We lucked out and had the entire place to ourselves (we literally barely saw anyone in our neighborhood!). It was a one bedroom cottage - you walked into a galley kitchen, then it was an open living room, a small bathroom to the side, and a bedroom that had been added onto the original structure off to the other side. All in all, it was just about perfect for us - although it didn't have air conditioning, which was a little alarming at first! It did cool down plenty at night, once we had opened all of the windows. We dropped our stuff off and then headed out to find some groceries for the remainder of our stay. We had heard (and realized in Oahu) that food was spendy in Hawaii, but we didn't realize how difficult it was going to be to find some affordable options! Unfortunately, we should have stopped at a grocery store in Lihue before heading down to Poipu Beach. (Our friend, Petra, had suggested hitting a farmers' market, which would have been awesome, but there weren't any on Sundays in our area!) Instead, we ended up hitting a general store (bad selection, horrible prices, we left) and then Living Foods (good selection, but all organic products, still bad prices). We picked up coffee, cereal, milk, and some snacks for hiking. We spent $50.


After that, we decided to drive out to Maha'ulepu beach, which was beyond the Hyatt, toward the southeastern side of the island. (See map for reference!) We took our first 4x4 road in the explorer (she held up nicely!), driving through old plantation fields, and ended up at a fairly secluded beach. We laid out our beach mats and enjoyed a nap in the sun (unfortunately, we had forgotten to grab beer or our books!). This beach has some good cliffs to hike around, but we were too tired to consider the walk.

That evening, we drove into Koloa, which is a small town just north of Poipu Beach. There we found a better supermarket (better selection, better prices, still not the best we saw on the island, but good for our area). We decided to pick up shrimp, steaks, red peppers, and a pineapple, along with a loaf of bread to add to our breakfast supply, and a 6 pack of beer for the beach (another $50). We headed back to the cottage, grilled our supper, and ate out on the lanai (deck). Since it was still early, we walked back down to the beach and checked out the ocean as nightfall hit. This was the only time we saw a sea turtle - it had made its way up to the beach and in the dark, we could just make out what it was!  We grabbed some (really horrible) shave ice at the deli under Brenneke's (shave ice is kind of like a snow cone, but more finely shaved so that it tastes almost fluffy compared to chunky - then they add flavored syrups, and you can have it over a scoop of ice cream - this one was basically just a snow cone), and headed home for the night.

Monday:
One of our favorite days in Hawaii! We got up early and drop around and up the island to the very north-western edge - right near the Na Pali Coast. We lucked out and got one of the last parking spots at Ke'e Beach, grabbed our hiking gear (water backpack, water shoes, hip pack with snacks, camera, and more water bottles) and started one of the most beautiful hikes we've ever done! The full Kalalau Trail goes 11 miles along the Na Pali Coast, which requires that you camp overnight and have a permit (we ran into 2 ladies that had tried to get by without a permit - they hiked most of the day only to be turned around and sent home by rangers!). However, without a permit, you can do a hike 2 miles along the shore to Hanakapi'ai Beach and then from there, you can go inland for 2 more miles to Hanakapi'ai Falls, which is what we did. Our total trip time was 6.5 hours. The full, overnight hike is definitely on our bucket list, though! It would be amazing.
From The Ultimate Kaua'i Guidebook, an absolute MUST HAVE for a trip to Kaua'i!


The hike to the beach involves going up the mountain and then winding back down around the other side. Here are some shots along the way:






The Hanakapi'ai beach is actually only present during the summer months - otherwise the water comes all the way up to the boulders that make up the majority of the 'beach.' Swimming is not advised - when we were there the water looked pretty nasty, so I can't imagine actually going in (not to mention the fact that unless one of the others happens to be a lifeguard and/or EMT, you are screwed if you get in trouble!). In fact, we saw this handmade sign along the trail once we got close to the beach:

 The beach was the perfect spot to take a little break, eat some snacks, take a few pics, and then get back on the trail. Now it was time to head inland. The trail leading up to the falls was much less maintained - at times we weren't entirely sure where to go. Luckily, we had some strangers around to help make decisions (sometimes not the right ones, unfortunately), and in a lot of cases someone had tied a little ribbon on the trees to indicate where to go. As we headed to the falls, we walked into the tropical jungle and away from the coast, and up into the mountains - it was hotter without the breeze from the ocean, but shaded from the sun. We saw lots of bamboo stands, which were awesome! People have carved their names into the bamboo shoots (we didn't, but we found one that said Kendra!). 
 
At this point in the trail (and once on the way to the beach) we had to cross the Hanakapi'ai Stream, which can be dangerous at times (it wasn't, when we were there). Neither of us fell in, thank goodness, but I almost did (expensive camera and all) coming back - luckily I was able to hop around on a few rocks to catch my balance! The stream also makes it difficult to follow the trail.
 We had to walk over this mini waterfall along the way - it freaked me out a bit seeing as if we slipped we'd end up falling off the side of the cliff.


 I think the hubby is really going to appreciate all of the topless photos of him in this series...
The falls! We couldn't see anything ahead of us until we were basically there, but knew it must be cool because everyone that was coming back said so! We quickly bypassed this sign...
...and then we were there!


 
I shot a quick video just to try to show the magnitude of these falls - they were unbelievable! Once we got there, we took a quick inventory, then stripped down and hopped into the pond underneath the falls. It was freezing cold, but we quickly warmed up! We were thankful we'd packed our water shoes as it was really rocky. We swam behind the falls, but I couldn't make it in as far as we wanted to go because I started having problems with my contacts with all of the splashing water from the falls. Nonetheless, it was pretty cool - and very refreshing after all of the hiking! We got back out, dried off in the sun, and ate our picnic lunch that we had packed. Then it was time to head back. (Incidentally, I also saw someone from my conference there - we avoided each other - it would have been awkward...) A few more shots along the way back...


By the time we were done with the hike - six and a half hours later! - we were ready to find a spot on Ke'e beach, chug some gatorade then a beer, and jump in the water! It was HOT. Once we had cooled down a bit, we hopped in the water for some snorkeling (not great because it was late in the day). Then we packed up our things and started the long drive back to Poipu Beach. We grabbed a bit along the way at Bubba's Burgers, which hit the spot after our big day. That night we crashed early after watching Game of Thrones on my laptop (yes, we are addicted).

Tuesday (aka David's 30th Birthday!):
This was the only day that we had booked an 'outing' - we decided to go tubing down the old sugar cane plantation irrigation canals. We booked it for 9am so that we'd have the rest of our day to do something else. Our general opinion was that it was fun, but not awesome. However, it was nice to do something other than hiking, driving, or going to the beach, and I really appreciated the information we got along the way (they do a mini tour of the sugar cane plantation as they drive you to the canals), and we tubed through the canals (ie in tunnels) with helmets and head lamps, which was pretty fun. It would be a great outing for families, but it was a little short and uneventful for us.
 After our tubing adventure, we hit the Koloa Rum Company right in Lihue. We lucked out and got in on a tasting right away - we tasted all 4 rums that they make (white, gold, spiced, and dark), and then had mini mai tais with the remainder of each of our tastings. All of their rums are made with Kaua'i ingredients (ie some of the remaining sugar cane on the island, water, and some yeast). We ended up purchasing a bottle of the white as a gift and a bottle of the dark for us on our last day. After that, we drove over to Spouting Horn to see the blowhole - a quick stop. We did grab this awesome instagram of the red dirt coast there, though!
There are also vendors here that sell cheap freshwater pearls, but I wasn't overly excited about anything. We decided to head back to the cottage to get cleaned up. From there, we drove back into Koloa and did a little shopping in the cute little shops there. We were able to grab some real shave ice here, as well as the rest of the souvenirs we brought back. Then we hit up Pizetta for happy hour - local beers, pizza slices, and apps (cheap and yummy!).
After that we drove back out to the beach and hit the Hyatt for a cocktail during the sunset (as our friend, Petra, suggested). That place was INSANE. It was gorgeous and opulent - a completely different way to do Kaua'i compared to our approach (obviously much more expensive, too)! We lucked out and were able to catch the torch lighting ceremony and some live Hawaiian music. After that, we decided to head over to Brenneke's for their late night happy hour - cheap mai tais, beers, and BBQ pork nachos - much more to our tasting.

Wednesday (final day):
For our final day in Kaua'i, we really wanted to explore the western end of the island, since we hadn't gone out that way yet. But first, we went snorkeling down at Poipu Beach - it ended up being some of the best snorkeling we had, and it was right in our 'backyard!'
 Then we packed up our stuff and 'checked out' of our cottage, then we drove up to Waimea Canyon. Since we hadn't had much for breakfast, we decided to stop in Waimea for a quick bite before making the 20 mile drive up the canyon. We stopped at Island Tacos and had one of the best meals we had in all of Hawaii - seared ahi cajun tacos, with sauteed cole slaw and a cilantro lime sauce, not to mention freshly made tortillas. They were amazing (I think we would have eaten there daily had we known!). Also, reasonably priced (rare, for Hawaii!). We gassed up the Explorer and took off. It was only on this drive that we really noticed the red Kaua'i dirt (they even make 'red dirt shirts' from the dirt here). It was crazy. At the major lookout, we got some good pics, but the photos don't do justice to the richness of the colors in the canyon! Unfortunately, when we tried to go to the uppermost lookout, it was raining and cloudy and we couldn't see anything. The middle of Kaua'i is one of the wettest spots on earth, so it wasn't entirely surprising that we ran into rain.

 
Our view from the top!
There were lots of hiking trails around here, but we didn't have time to do any of them (nor were we appropriately dressed since our hiking gear was already packed), but we would definitely try them out next time! Instead, we drove back down the canyon side and headed to the western-most edge of the island that you can reach by car. We were shooting for Polihale State Park, based on another recommendation from Petra. We attempted to follow the directions in the Ultimate Kaua'i Guidebook, but managed to miss a turn and ended up near the military ammunition bunkers - luckily we were already turning around when the police caught up with us. He turned us back in the appropriate direction. We took a long dirt road (4x4 recommended), and considered turning around, only to end up at the most beautiful beach we'd seen! The place was almost deserted (not surprising, considering how long it took to get out there!), but it had restrooms and showers and an entire expanse of sandy beach right alongside the southern edge of the Na Pali Coast. Had we known how awesome it was going to be, we would have made a trip here a priority! Instead, we had to settle with digging out our swimsuits (not for swimming, but simply to stay cool enough - the downside of this beach is that there is no shade), drinking some semi-warm beers with our feet in the water and trying to soak up the last of the trip to Hawaii. Next time, we'll pack a big cooler of food and refreshments and an umbrella and we'll be set!

Did I mention that there are wild chickens everywhere in Kaua'i? Even out at this remote beach! We also saw wild kittens at the beach on our hike!




On the right, you can see one of the private Hawaiian islands.




Finally, it was time to pack up and start the drive back to Lihue since we were on the opposite side of the island. Along the way, we stopped at the Kaua'i Coffee Plantation Vistors' Center. We sampled lots of coffees and did their self-guided walking tour - the guidebook wasn't too keen on this place, but we really enjoyed it! We both thought the coffee growing information was fascinating, and we found a couple of varieties to bring home!

 You have to prune back the coffee plants or they get to be really tall!
After that, we headed to Lihue in an attempt to hit the rum tasting room again to purchase a couple of bottles - they were closed, but they told us to head to a nearby grocery store to pick up the bottles. Turns out, it was cheaper to buy them there (groceries were also cheaper in Lihue than anywhere else we'd seen on the island). We attempted to get some more shave ice, but couldn't find any in the area, and ended up just heading back to the rental lot to return the Explorer and head to the airport (and yes, the chick working the rental place just hopped in the back and directed us to the airport and then she drove the vehicle back). Thankfully, Island Air took care of forwarding our luggage from Kaua'i all the way to Minneapolis (it made it!), so we didn't have to grab our stuff from baggage claim and go through check-in and security in Honolulu. Since our inter-island travel wasn't linked to our flight home, we didn't think that was possible. Instead, we were able to check our bags once (one fee!) and just head straight to the gate once we reached Honolulu. After a long flight, with little food, sleep, or coffee, we made it home and enjoyed the rest of our day with Mia!