The island of Kauai is a home in the sense that, when you visit, you feel the urge to stay. She welcomes you with her gorgeous flowers and calm, and she compels you to simply embrace life. When I met her, I found the most rewarding approach to learning about her to be through her culture and her nature. Luaus can be enjoyable enough, and tourist shops can be appealing, but you don’t walk away feeling a sincere admiration for Kauai until you connect with her core. And the ways to do this are found sometimes in the most simple places.
A hidden key in embracing the culture is found in the West Kauai Technology Center: lei-making. Lei-making has evolved over the centuries as Kauai underwent changes in inhabitants and rule and tradition. Nevertheless, the heart of lei-making remains constant, which is to gather in one another’s company and share stories while putting yourself into your lei. Traditionally, you then gift this lei you crafted to another. At the technology center, my instructor shared with my family these roots while guiding us in our lei creation, providing a table full of plumerias straight from her own yard for us to make dozens of leis.
A short distance from the technology center is Waimea Canyon, which I subsequently visited. The twisting roads up to the top make for unforgettable -and occasionally dizzying- sights of both the canyon (who needs the Grand Canyon?) and the ocean. Yet what I didn’t expect stood at the lookout around mile marker 13. The man stood on a bench in traditional Hawaiian coverings for the men out sailing in their boats, handmade mask and all. Admittedly his lack of coverings was initially off-putting, but his passion for sharing the culture of his people was so incredibly inspiring. He shared the origin of his dress and the purpose for each piece with ease and humour, speaking of his desire to let us know the history of his people. His passion invoked my admiration for the culture and even provided a bit of a lesson in character.
Beyond the more populated regions of the island beholds the strength of its nature as well. I learned this no better than in my attempt -along with my father and sister- to hike the Tunnels Trail. I did not have a great sense of the difficulty of the hike before I tried it, and consequences for that appeared quickly. When we arrived at the site, my dad realized the minivan couldn’t handle the road, so two miles along a road was added to our trip to even reach the beginning of the trail. Thank God, a local offered to give us a ride part of the way, blessing us. And so, after saying our alohas, we began our trek. The first unexpected dip in the trail was a legitimate dip- a pond knee-deep right in the middle of the road. At the time, we didn’t know how deep it actually was; that came from an experiment with a stick. The surprises only multiplied from there: overturned cars, forks in the road, rain, calf-deep mud, the reality of having the wrong shoes, an ultimate decision to head back after being poked and some frightening slipping, and finally getting temporarily off-trail for a while. The crazy experience was rather intriguing -albeit stressful- and made us realize the might of Kauai’s nature firsthand. Sure, the dancing at the luau was neat, but this? This was Kauai, in all of its wild glory, and it’s what I’ll remember most.
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