Three Years: The Bad, The Good & The Sublime

It doesn’t get any better than palm trees and rainbows.

This month marks the beginning of our fourth year on Kaua’i. It’s almost a cliché to say it, but it both seems like it was only yesterday that we were scrambling back in Portland to sell our house and make our move, while at the same time feeling like we’ve been here for far longer than three years.

Has it been perfect? No, because nothing ever is. Still the good and the sublime far outweigh the bad we’ve experienced since our move.

Beautiful but annoying

Here’s how things look after three years on Kauai:

The Bad:

  • Humidity: As I wrote just a short time ago, I’m not sure I will ever adjust. When it’s bad, I’m miserable.
  • Bugs: Hawai’i is Bug Central. We do pretty well inside our house keeping the critters out, but they are still always with us: mosquitos, centipedes, giant cockroaches, ants, spiders and other small flying things.
  • Dust: Keeping up with the dust here is a daily struggle.
  • Chickens/roosters: They’ve grown on me in some ways (some of the roosters are positively gorgeous) and they eat lots of bugs, but they have torn up everything we’ve planted in the yard, and can be incredibly loud and annoying at times. I guess I just wish there were fewer of them.
  • Frogs: There are poisonous toads (bufo) here and they give me the willies. Thankfully they only come out at night when I’m safely inside, and they too eat bugs. Still, they’re a giant ick factor for me.
  • It’s expensive: We prepared ourselves for the higher cost of living here, and are managing fine, but food, housing, airline flights, etc. are still more here than elsewhere – prices can still be a shock at times.

    One of our favorite farmers at the Kapaa market – we stop by her stand every week

The Good:

  • Farmers’ markets: The abundance of fresh, locally grown, affordable produce has meant we are eating more fruits and vegetables than in the past, and paying less for them.
  • Hawaiian-style: We absolutely love the Hawaiian spin on things, especially the way food is prepared using or substituting local ingredients.
  • It’s casual: Every day is casual Friday here. Really, no one cares what you wear, or what your nails look like, or what kind of purse you’re carrying. No one cares about your car either.
  • Our girls’ experiences: None of our girls wanted to move here, and although Meiling returned back to the mainland shortly after we arrived, WenYu now says moving here was the best thing to happen for her, and YaYu concurs. They have thrived here on the island. All three consider Kaua’i home now.
  • No snakes: It took me almost a year to accept that there are no snakes, poisonous or otherwise, on this tropical island; in the whole state actually. Yeah for no snakes!
  • The expense: While this is one of the not-so-good things about living here, it’s also helped us hone our frugal skills much more than we might have otherwise.
  • Manageability: Although there aren’t loads of stores or shopping opportunities like in other places, and we’ll never get a Trader Joe’s, we have everything we need here, and it’s easy to get to them. The island is just the right size (for us).

    My all-time favorite island view

The Sublime:

  • The slow pace: The slower way of life here suits us perfectly. Everything gets done, but there’s little to no sense of underlying urgency. Feeling stressed is a rare thing these days.
  • The green: There’s a reason Kaua’i is called ‘The Garden Island’ – it’s beautiful, lush and green all year round.
  • The weather: This was the main reason for our move here, and we have not been disappointed. Yes, it rains and can get very humid, but most of the time it is warm, sunny and the trade winds keep it comfortable.
  • The ocean: I love that I can see the ocean every day, and experience its wonders, from crashing waves to spectacular vistas with colors transitioning from clear turquoise to deep, dark blue. And, there are seals, dolphins, big turtles and leaping whales to observe. There is nothing more invigorating than an hour or so under the umbrella at the beach, even if I don’t make it into the water.
  • The moon and the stars: There aren’t words to describe how beautiful the night sky is here. Because there’s no ambient light to dull the view, stars literally blanket the sky. The full moon here shines like a spotlight.
  • Sunrise, sunset: One word: breathtaking. Almost every day.
  • Diversity: Hawai’i is well-known for its population diversity – it’s a daily fact of life here – but we also experience other types of diversity as well. Even a small island like Kaua’i has multiple micro-climates, so a trip to the north shore or the west side of the island means different foliage and temperatures than we have here on the east side. The local culture is also different depending on which part of the island you’re on.
  • The aloha spirit: There is a genuine friendliness here that I’ve never experienced elsewhere in the U.S. Aloha means sharing, living in the present, caring for others and the land, and enjoying life and feeling joy, and we experience these things every day in our interactions with others (even though most locals still think we’re tourists).

Here’s to three wonderful years – lucky we live Hawai’i!

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#Kaua’i: Nani Pua (Beautiful Flowers) – Part 1

Heliconia – locals call it “sexy pink”

One of the joys of living on Kaua’i is the abundance of vibrant, beautiful flowers everywhere, all year round. Every day here we’re treated to an amazing array of colors and blossoms. Some of the flowers, like plumeria or gardenia, have intoxicating aromas, but even if they don’t smell I’m still drawn in by the stunning colors on display. Whether we’re at the weekly farmers’ markets or just walking around the neighborhood or wherever, the abundance of flowers provides a daily feast for the eyes.

Hawaii’s most famous flower is the hibiscus (the yellow hibiscus is the state flower). Hibiscus bloom year-round, and come is a variety of colors and petal arrangements.

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The most common flowers for sale at farmers’ markets are Hawaiian ginger, bird-of-paradise and heliconia, which can be seen year-round. Other flowers, like gardenia, can be found when they’re in bloom.

Hawaiian ginger

Bird-of-Paradise

Fragrant gardenia bouquets for sale at the market

Many trees on the island also get into the act and have striking and colorful flowers. Perhaps the most well-known is the plumeria, with its beautiful, fragrant flowers, often used for lei. At night, when they’re in bloom, we can sometimes catch their sweet aroma on the breeze. The royal poinciana tree is also a delight, with its giant red blooms. More of a shrub than a tree, bougainvillea can be found everywhere on the island, typically covered with  purple flowers but sometimes orange can be found. There are other exotic trees as well with interesting and unusual flowers.

Bright red blooms cover royal poinciana trees

The flowers on an angel’s trumpet tree are gorgeous, but highly poisonous

Plumeria blossoms can also be a deep, bright pink or white with pink and orange. The tree is seasonal, and during the winter all the leaves and blossoms are gone leaving only thick, bare branches – the tree looks dead!

Vibrant bougainvillea

The pictures above show only a fraction of the flowers we’re treated to here all year long, and I have yet to get tired of them, or fail to notice them whenever we’re out and about. Sometimes we even get lucky, and find something truly unusual, like the white bird-of-paradise we spotted a couple of weeks ago when we were out for a walk – we had no idea they were in any other color than bright orange!

White bird-of-paradise

#Kaua’i: Winter Is Different Here

Kapaa Lookout

Greening Up

Although it does not snow on Kauai, there is a marked seasonal change that occurs sometime after Halloween, and may linger past St Patrick’s Day. The grass is often greener, the surf a bit rough and choppy all day long, and the sky a deep gray as it appears a little closer to the beach before it engulfs the mountains.

Rough Surf

Rough Surf

We frequently carry sweatshirts or sweaters when we go out in late afternoon because the trade winds gust up as the sun goes down. Really, it takes no time at all to acclimate to the warmer summer weather, and begin shivering as the mercury dips below 70 degrees Farenheit (21 degrees Celsius) on wintry evenings and early mornings.

Heavy Clouds; Windswept Waves

Heavy Clouds and Windswept Waves

Throughout the non-hurricane season, we make fewer trips to the beach, and umbrellas are more frequently seen at cocktail bars. And, occasionally it rains like it’s never going to let up. Great masses of saturated soil slump and creep, and big things fall down the mountains with a rumble or roar. On the other hand, this is the best time of year for watching migratory marine life from the shore.

Whale & Porpoise Watching

Whale & Porpoise Watching

A few weeks into this season, flash flood watches and warnings are issued by the National Weather Service for days on end. Roads are temporarily flooded and closed, and tragedy strikes more often in rivers and streams due to the heavily silted and rapidly rising water.

Gloomy Sunset

Distant Heavy Rains

Winter is different here, but it’s still paradise, still home.

Hot Times

1I adored summer when I was a child. Long sunny days with no school were spent at our beach house, or swimming in the neighbor’s or the community pool; playing ditch’ em, softball or other games with the neighborhood kids; or riding bikes to the park or to the library to get more books. I don’t think I ever wore shoes during the summer, or even flip-flops. I never gave a thought to the temperature, and southern California summers were hot.

I sure don’t enjoy summer that much any more. Why? Because it’s hot, and here in Hawai’i it also can get very humid. My body doesn’t enjoy the heat like it did when I was child, and it definitely dislikes the increased humidity. I get cross more easily when I’m hot and I feel sluggish a great deal of the time. I’m also the one responsible these days for chores and such that I’m sure my parents and other adults probably hated having to do in the summer heat.

Most houses in Hawai’i don’t have air-conditioning. It’s expensive to operate here due to high utility costs, but the islands are also blessed with trade winds that blow nearly year round, usually keeping the temperature reasonable. However, as the earth heats up, that’s changing too. We’ve gone through two summers now where the trade winds have come to a halt for more than a month in late summer, and temperatures have sometimes climbed above 90°. Long-time residents also say that the trades are not as strong and cooling as they were in the past. We’re keeping our fingers crossed though that the past two years have been an anomaly rather than a trend.

We rely on several things to stay comfortable during the hot summer days here:

  • Running the ceiling fans: Unlike the house we started out in, our current house has plenty of BIG ceiling fans placed strategically throughout the house, including one in the kitchen. The bedroom fans do a fabulous job of keeping the bedrooms cool at night, and the big fan in the bathroom makes short work of the steam and humidity that build during a shower.
  • Opening windows: Although we shut the windows at the front of the house at night, Brett gets up early in the morning and opens them and the front door, which allow the morning trades to flow through the house, keeping things nice and cool until early evening, when the trades seem to die off for a while, and the western sun beats down. Our house is situated though to avoid most of the late afternoon sun, unlike our old house with its big windows on the west side which caught the afternoon sun and heated up the entire house, especially the dining room and kitchen (it didn’t help either that our house was on the second floor, with the heat from below rising up and hanging around).
  • Turning on the stove as little as possible: How I cook is definitely different these days than it was back on the mainland. Mainly, I try to avoid turning on either the oven or the stove if at all possible. If I do have to turn on the oven, I try for early in the day, and I leave the ceiling fan on. I avoid recipes these days that require long cooking times on the stove top, and let the girls handle stir-fries and such because they can tolerate the heat better than I can. We grill and use the slow cooker and rice cooker a lot as well to keep the kitchen area cooler.
  • Saving chores until night: I do many of my cleaning chores after everyone else has gone to bed, like the dishes, the bathrooms, the floors and such. During the day just lightly pushing a broom around can cause me to sweat heavily. However, at night the temperature and humidity usually have dropped to more comfortable levels. Some things though, like the laundry, still have to be done during the heat of the day – ugh.
  • Dressing appropriately: One of the things I love about living on Kaua’i is that no one here cares what you wear. So, I dress in my baggy linen pants every day with a loose, sleeveless linen or cotton top or t-shirt. It’s not the most flattering look for me, but it’s very comfortable in the heat. I don’t think I’ve ever worn a pair of close-toed shoes here.  I’m not sure if Brett even own a pair of long pants any more ;-).
  • Staying hydrated: I drink from the moment I get up in the morning until I go to bed at night. I start with a cup of coffee and move on to a couple of glasses of iced tea, and then water and non-caffeinated drinks after 1:00 in the afternoon (so I can sleep at night). We stop for shave ice more frequently during the summer, and Brett and I enjoy refreshing gin & tonics and mojitos for our weekend drinks rather than sticking to wine.
  • Getting outside: One of the reasons we grew to dislike our old house was that we had no outside space to use when it got hot. Due to the stream running behind the house, and other drainage issues, the lawn was filled with mosquitos and other bugs, and our icky downstairs neighbors claimed all the patio area as theirs. We now have a lovely, large, private covered lanai in front that we can enjoy, especially in the morning and evening. We also live closer, and get ourselves to the beach more frequently than we did at the old house.

Brett and I both swore we were never going to live in a humid area again after finishing a two year tour in southern Maryland followed by two years in Key West, Florida – and we had A/C in both places! Of course, we left Key West to go back to Japan, where the humidity in the U.S. is mere child’s play compared to what they experience there every summer. Our last Japan tour helped us decide where we would settle after Brett retired: Portland got wet, but it didn’t get humid.

And yet, here we are on Kaua’i, where it’s humid year round, and we’re loving it. We found that when we were in Oahu last month that we didn’t enjoy the air-conditioning as much as we thought we would – we spent a lot of time out on the lanai, or heading somewhere else outside.

We know the summer’s heat and humidity here are only temporary, and that in early fall cooler temperatures and stronger trade winds will return (thank goodness), bringing back Hawaii’s beautiful, temperate weather. But for now, times are hot.

How to Travel Solo and Fall in Love With It

RIshikesh, India, Parmarth Ashram, www.bartnikowski.com

Rishikesh, India, Parmarth Ashram, http://www.bartnikowski.com

Myth: it costs a lot to travel.

Yes it does if you stay in $400 a night hotels like I used to do.

It was fun.

The truth is I love to travel solo.

I don’t have to wait for a friend to break up with her lover, leave their job, or save enough money to go with me.

When I want to go to Nepal, Colombia, or Sardinia I put on my Van sneakers and go!

I can sit in a fancy pants bar/restaurant like I am now and write. And enjoy a superb glass of red wine and be at ease and comfortable.

You never have to negotiate where to go based on money.

I was backpacking in the Himalayas solo in 2009 in Sikkim, India and realized I was spending less money per month than I received for renting out my apartment in Palo Alto, California.

I was spending less than $300 per month to stay in guesthouses eating home made Tibetan soup and momos, traveling by share jeep in the Himalayas, and having a blast.

I came home from that 10-month trip with money in the bank.

Advice.

Don’t go over your budget on lodging. Yes you can splash out for a few days. But you can also get budget accommodation and live it up at the upper crust lounge/restaurant like I am now.

Secret: you can often work/write in 5-star surroundings enjoying the incredible views and then go back to your Airbnb room, campsite, or rented home.

You’ll discover that having a set amount to spend on lodging will keep you kosher.

I often times suggest a lower price on a room when the price suggested is too high.

It’s called rich foreigner tax. Many countries, like India, have no set prices on their rooms, the price is whatever they can get.

So haggle wisely, you’re still most likely paying too much.

Freedom!

One of the best things I ever did was travel twice around the world with no itinerary buying one-way plane tickets along the way.

If I felt like staying in Bali another month I could, no discussion.

If I wanted to explore Burma for a month, I went.

First time I went round the world I spent $2900 on plane tickets, the 2nd time I spent $1800. No I didn’t buy a RTW ticket, it doesn’t give you freedom on your journey.

For example I decided to stay in Cambodia for 4 weeks when I couldn’t stomach the thought of leaving.

I was falling in love with Siem Reap, where Angkor Wat is located and so I stayed.

No heated arguments. I found an incredible local guesthouse: Rosie’s guesthouse. And another one, Ou Malay where the Cambodian owners and I had a love fest of laughing and daily camaraderie.

It was $7 a night, no wifi but so what?! We loved each other!

Cambodia, Ou Malay Guesthouse Siem Reap, www.bartnikowski.com

Cambodia, Ou Malay Guesthouse, Siem Reap, http://www.bartnikowski.com

You meet so many people!

When you’re solo, there’s no one to listen or talk to. You can be alone with your own thoughts and then Bam! you meet someone seriously interesting who lights up your world and you wonder how you ever would have met them if you were with someone.

This has happened to me more times than I can count. And I’m still in touch with many friends I met traveling from Spain, Korea, Australia, Nepal, India, Germany, and Argentina.

They shook up my world and invited me into a new portal of love and friendship. I never would have met them if I wasn’t solo.

Being solo you have to reach out. It can be intoxicating.

Traveling solo, I mention my thoughts to whoever is standing by, I don’t take offense if they don’t respond, I’m simply radiating aloha which means, I’m spreading good will and happiness which is what the Dalai Lama advises but I didn’t realize until living in Hawaii that this means Aloha.

Pay attention. You might meet your soulmate, best friend ever, or meditation master around the next corner.

Suddenly you’ll be in a new world that you had no idea even existed.

Burma, Shwe Dagon Pagoda, Yangon, www.bartnikowski.com

Burma, Shwe Dagon Pagoda, Yangon, http://www.bartnikowski.com

Safety.

Yes you can be safe but you have to trust your gut. Don’t negotiate with the red alert warnings your instincts tell you. Pay attention.

Your body knows before your mind. Listen.

And while you are at it: don’t tell people you’re traveling solo. Don’t advertise your solo status by flagrantly drinking and carousing. Really.

Do make friends with families and women. Volunteer with humanitarian foundations that are educating and changing lives. Don’t be afraid to talk to people and smile.

A smile is universal. Yes it works in every country. Try it. It works.

Change Your Life, join Mary on Kauai July to December for a 3-day luxury private retreat, learn yoga and photography on the best island in the world.

 

Kaua’i Shave Ice Review #2: Tege Tege Shave Ice

IMG_3769Tege Tege is the new kid in town when it comes to shave ice, or at least the new kid in the town of Kapa’a, on the east side of the island. Apparently Tege Tege has been operating up in Kilauea on the north shore for a couple of years, but a couple of months ago their truck showed up on the north end of Kapa’a, right next to Otsuka’s furniture store. We’ve never seen them without a line at their window.

Strawberry shave ice from Tege Tege

Strawberry shave ice from Tege Tege

While I was getting my hair cut yesterday, Brett took the girls to give Tege Tege a try. Brett selected a coconut shave ice, YaYu chose strawberry, and WenYu picked green tea. They also picked up an extra green tea shave ice for me (without the snow cap).

The ice shaver comes from Japan

The hand-operated ice shaver comes from Japan

Tege Tege’s ice is hand shaved using a special Japanese machine which creates extremely fluffy ice with an almost creamy texture. Organic fruit syrups are added several times along the way as the cup is filled with ice, ensuring each bite is full of exquisite flavor. Each shave ice receives a complementary snow cap, and with the exception of three flavors (grapefruit, lime and gooseberry) each icy confection is topped off with fresh, organic fruit. Instead of fruit, a green tea shave ice receives a generous helping of anko, sweet red (azuki) beans, the traditional accompaniment to green tea flavor in Japan.

The Tege Tege menu

The Tege Tege menu

All this quality and craftsmanship comes at a price though. Regular flavors are $7 each; green tea is $8.50. Ice cream is an additional $2.00 (we skipped the ice cream). Tege Tege only offers eight flavors, but finished product is big, and the shave ice is dessert quality and very filling.

Green tea shave ice

Green tea shave ice with anko

The Tege Tege trailer is within walking distance of our house, so I’m sure we’ll be going back one of these days. The cost is pretty high for shave ice, but the quality is several steps above what we’ve had elsewhere. The presentation is beautiful, the flavors unbelievably rich, and the texture amazingly creamy. In our opinion, Tege Tege is well worth a splurge once in a while!

Our Short Oahu Getaway

Our short visit to Waikiki has been . . . perfect. In just two and half days here we’ve enjoyed great weather, gotten everything done we wanted and needed to do, and we‘ve relaxed.

The view from our lanai.

The view from our lanai

I don’t know what we did right, but the room we were given at the Hale Koa was on the top floor, with sweeping views of the resort grounds, the ocean and Waikiki Beach. We spent a lot of time at the hotel out on our lanai enjoying the view, whether that was for the sunset in the evening, or coffee and breakfast in the morning, or relaxing between other activities. Our room was spacious and comfortable, and the hotel had everything you could think of: restaurants, several bars, casual dining options, two pools (one for 18 and older only), beach access and rentals, tennis courts, a day spa, a gym, and beautiful grounds for strolling. Most things are for military only (you have to present ID to get in), but a few things, like the day spa, are open to the public with military receiving a discount. We laughed that Brett probably had the longest hair there (for a guy), and seemed to be the only retiree not sporting a ball cap that stated “Retired <branch of service>.”

Our hotel tower, one of two at the Hale Koa. Our room was on the top floor, second from the left.

Our hotel tower, one of two at the Hale Koa. Our room was on the top floor, second from the left. The Maile Pool (18 and older only) is in the foreground; there’s another larger pool on the grounds for families and children.

The Maile pool looking down from our lanai

Looking down from our lanai at the Maile pool.

Beautiful landscaping surrounds the Hale Koa.

Beautiful landscaping surrounds the Hale Koa.

One of our primary reasons for coming to Oahu was for the girls to do some shopping. Neither has really bought any new clothes for two years other than t-shirts for school, and with WenYu needing clothes for college they were eager to hit the stores. After we checked in on Wednesday afternoon we took a short walk over to the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center to let them get started. Brett and I turned them loose while we found a quiet seat outside and enjoyed coffee and lemonade, and watched Japanese tourists shop and learn the hula (they picked it up very quickly).

Sunset view from our lanai on Thursday evening

Sunset view from our lanai on Thursday evening

We slept in on Thursday morning, enjoyed our breakfast on the lanai, and then walked over to the huge Ala Moana Center, about a mile away. The girls took off on their own once we got there, and Brett and I mostly spent our time window shopping but bought a couple of things for ourselves: I got new pair of slippahs (flip flops) and some lingerie, and Brett got a new 10-year shaving brush for his Father’s Day gift – his old one is on its very last legs. We met up with the girls in the late afternoon and rode the bus back to the hotel. Dinner that night was at one of the hotel snack bars, with the girls staying to swim for awhile afterwards and Brett and I heading back to our room to enjoy the sunset. We surprised the girls when they got back with some tasty cupcakes from the famous Magnolia Bakery – they have an outpost in the Ala Moana Center.

It's a tough job, but someone has to sit out by the pool

It’s a tough job, but someone has to sit out by the pool

New slippahs and a pedicure!

New slippahs and a pedicure!

Yesterday was dedicated to relaxation. We slept in again, had breakfast on the lanai, and then we all headed in different directions for a while. Brett visited the nearby Army Museum of Hawai’i, the girls went to the pool, and I went to the day spa for a manicure and pedicure. We all got together for lunch at another one of the snack bars (all the snack bars served really tasty food), then headed to the pool for an afternoon of swimming and sunbathing. The girls took off early and went back into town for one last round of shopping while Brett and I relaxed at the Maile pool for a while longer.

Dessert selections included carrot cake, raspberry panna cotta, chocolate mousse and mini fruit tarts

Dessert selections at the buffet included carrot cake, raspberry panna cotta, chocolate mousse and mini fruit tarts

We had not planned to do any restaurant dining, but one of the Hale Koa’s restaurants hosts an all-you-can-eat buffet every evening at a very reasonable price, and Friday evening we learned they were serving crab legs and peel-and-eat shrimp as well as the regular menu items, so we decided we had to go. Our table came with a gorgeous view of the beach, and the food was amazing! We all ate too much, but agreed it was well worth it!

Ou intrepid shoppers relaxing on Waikiki Beach at sundown

Our intrepid shoppers relaxing on Waikiki Beach at sundown

Then we headed down to the beach to view Diamond Head once more, and see the sun set, before heading back to our room to watch the fireworks show in honor of Kamahemeha Day, the biggest state holiday in Hawai’i. We ended the day getting everything packed and ready for this morning’s departure for home.

The remains of the day: Waikiki sunset

The remains of the day: Waikiki sunset

While we greatly enjoyed the hustle and bustle of Honolulu and Waikiki, we are glad to be heading home to our slower-paced island. The getaway was a great one though – we all had a terrific time, got what we needed and did not go over budget! Brett and I are especially proud of the girls and their shopping prowess – they found lots of great stuff and are coming home with money still in their accounts. We’ll definitely be heading back to Waikiki again, but next time will give ourselves more time for sightseeing around the island. We loved our time on Oahu!