Third day in Kauai and nary a beach had yet to be seen. I had pre-gamed for beach moments suffering through a dietary plan of my own leading up to vacation as:
belly + bathing suits = noes!
Nevertheless I was excited for today, we had booked a tour in the afternoon with Na Pali Experience.
Signing up for tour of the sea caves off the Na Pali coast formed organically. Laurie and I were chatting online after work, and I was investigating Pinterest to see what others had pinned as their “wanderlust” activities for Kauai. Sending my search link over to Laurie, she spies the sea caves and becomes immediately motivated to investigate this more. Laurie tends to morph into her superhero identity of “prolific travel planning goddess” when inspired by adventure and eats. Our conversation goes as the following:
Laurie: Ooh what do you think about taking this boat tour to the sea caves?
Laurie: 5 hour boat tour, morning or afternoon option
Laurie: Aw booo, they’re all booked up already
Me: I would be all up for it
Laurie: There’s room for 1 available sat afternoon
Laurie: Oh wells, will look for other available tours
Me: I guess you’re going
Me: Oh the afternoon adventure one
Me: has 2 seats for friday
Laurie: ooh it does??
Minutes later our tour is booked.
Being that we chosen the afternoon tour, we could lounge around and be lazy this morning. Since our bellies were still jet lagged, we researched breakfast options and instead came up with having BBQ chicken for breakfast at the Anahola Farmers Market.
Let’s just say I’m used to San Francisco Bay Area’s suburban farmers markets and this market was rural. Arriving there we glanced around inquisitively, wondering if we were at the right place. A quick photo reference from Yelp confirmed it. No kettle corn, honey in a tube, or five pound boxes of strawberries to be found here. Nevertheless, while we were judging with our minds eye, our gluttonous selves desperately wanted the tales of this place to ring true.
We waited while other patrons lined up and tried to order the chicken, no dice. The chicken chef had not arrived yet. Instead we ended up ordering a delicious pork combo meal.
For dessert we get a super ripe papaya and some coconut bread. The bread is just so so, but the ripe papaya is the best one I’ve ever had. We had to google how to pick papayas as we hadn’t ever purchased them ourselves. Oh internets, we love you so much because we don’t have to embarrass ourselves by asking silly questions.
While prices were steep for the fruit, the freshness definitely made up for it.
We still had time before our tour, so we decided to make a couple pit stops. First we got thirsty, and what quenches a thirst better than Ono Ono Shaved Ice!
Stopped back at Pono Market to get some snacks for dinner. Found a drug store to pick up sprayable sunblock, then we decided to go back to Foodland to get some sour dried plums to help prevent motion sickness as dramamine knocks me out completely instead of just the motion sickness, and look for butter mochi, but it’s sold out!
Next on our way was the siren’s call of the Kauai Coffee Plantation. Here a value conscious self is easily lured by free tastings. We pulled up to a parking lot shaded on one side by trees with these beauties:
They have beautiful grounds behind the main building where they farm the coffee where you can either do a guided or self tour.
Personally I can’t drink much coffee after I worked at Starbucks for 2 years as a teenager. When your skin takes on a coffee smell that you can’t scrub out even with a good shower, it’s just not all that appealing. Nevertheless, I enjoyed sipping their coffee and ended up picking up a bag to take home to Kumi. I have made it a ritual to bring her a bag of coffee from almost all my travels.
We still have time before our 2pm tour, so what do we decide to do? Butter mochi quest at the other Foodland nearby. This results in another failed attempt. Bah. We pick up some souvenirs instead and head over to the coast meet up location. Sunblock up in the car before heading over to wait at the dock. There we meet Natasha and Jason, a couple on their month long honeymoon from Australia. They have brought their own gear and are well tanned from their journeys.
Our captain Drew arrives and guides us to a mid-sided gas powered catamaran, it was at that point I realized that our tour would only have a total of 4 guests. This would be optimal for making decisions about what to see and do. We stowed our valuables in provided waterproof bags and boarded the ship.
Drew was a fantastic guide, knowledgable about the island and the coast as well as hip with pop culture references. He suggested we check out the caves first, which would be a choppier ride out, but smoother on the way back to snorkel near the shore. At the mention of snorkeling I tense up. Having nearly drowned once while in high school, swimming makes me panic. I make a mental note that I will stay on the boat while others enjoy snorkeling later. Laurie must have sensed my apprehensiveness, because she asks “Are you ok?” I nod and pretend everything is good, while telling myself again, “Staying on the boat is key to living Jessica!”
Passing by a functional naval base, Drew mentions they occasionally shoot off test missiles and ask the tour drivers to speed on by. Today no such luck for missile watching. The waves are extremely choppy going against the current. Drew keeps us apprised of what he’s doing and how he’s angling through the waves to reduce the bounce shimmy shake. I’m not sure if he’s doing this to inspire confidence, or if this is part of the tour, but I definitely felt like he was in complete command of our journey and the continuous feedback was reassuring.
I get mesmerized by the waves (slight nausea) and start to snack on plums, as Laurie asks Jason about their trip so far. He’s an animated story-teller and details out locations and descriptions that I have since forgotten. Laurie is fantastic at opening sets. Natasha is more shy with strangers like myself and it takes us both a while to warm up before we join the conversation.
Opening Sets – a term coined by pick up artists in being able to start a conversation with a person or group by asking and following up with a series of non-threatening questions.
Drew continues to point out areas along the coast where Jurassic Park, King Kong (1976), John Wayne’s Donovan’s Reef, and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides were filmed. Then we hear on the radio dial “Death Star to Millennium Falcon, you there?” We tune in to hear a conversation that I cannot be sure is truly english, when Drew mentions they are talking about fishing lure types. We give up on eavesdropping then.
We then reach our first sea cave, it’s shallow as the water has not eroded enough of the rock walls for a catamaran to enter. We just pull along side and glimpse in while seabirds tuck themselves in the ledges, yawn and lay waste on the walls. How wonderful it would be to be a sea bird today with the medium sized waves and mesmerizing blue of the water.
As we moved on, each cave was better than the next.
Post sea caves we are headed back to where we would be snorkeling. We’re all in a half dream state staring off into the distance when I think I see dolphins. DOLPHINS! They are normally not out in the afternoon, since this area is their breakfast haunt, but then one jumps in front of the boat and confirms that I’m not imagining things.
We all go into rainbow unicorn mode and whip out our cameras to try and get a better shot.
rainbow unicorn mode – when something rare and exquisite occurs and you just need to document this with film to prove to yourself that it happened.
The dolphins play in the current of our catamaran, doing flips and dives about. There is this one brilliant moment where two jump up in unison that Jason miraculously got on film. We hope out loud that the dolphins will end up in our snorkeling area. But alas that wasn’t to be as we navigated into the reef, and everyone readied themselves for some snorkeling fun.
I was just about to mention to Drew that I would be resting on the boat when he asks “Everyone knows how to swim here right? It’s a beautiful day and I think I’ll go snorkel with you guys.” I awkwardly raise my hand and mention I can’t really swim, thinking back with a shudder to that moment in high school where I almost drowned.
Amazingly he doesn’t skip a beat before saying, don’t worry we have life vests and a noodle for you. I’ll lead you on a path so it will be easier to get back to the boat. Nastasha gives me a reassuring look as well, and says “Don’t worry, we’ll get to you if you’re in trouble.” Out of a hidden compartment come a life vest, a noodle and snorkeling equipment. I quickly fasten on the life vest, but allow everyone to get ready and disembark the boat before me. I sit at the stem of the boat on the ledge with legs dangling off into the clear blue water.
Drew tells me “I’ll give you the noodle once you’re in the water.” He has to say this twice before I actually budge. Then as soon as I’m in he shows me the best ways to use the noodle is in front across my chest and under my arms.
Putting my face mask on and breathing tube I’m off and it’s kind of amazing. I have air from a ridged snorkel that doesn’t tip over and go into the water when I pop my head up , there are fish around us and wait what’s that there are a bunch of giant turtles getting in my way. The sea turtles are graceful and don’t mind that we’re out and about in their hood.
Drew has me swim against the current to start, so that once I get tired the current can push me back to the boat. I try to keep up with the group, but honestly they are way too fast for me so instead I lazily follow 2 turtles around, while trying to avoid fish and coral. Laurie’s fantastic and keeps looking behind for me to make sure I’m not lost at sea, and then just ask she’s glancing back to look for me, she bumps into a turtle. I chortle into my mask and have to pull my head out of the water to readjust everything.
Turtle unscathed and unaffected continues on it’s way. We’re there a good half an hour or slightly more before we have to go back. As we’re nearing the boat Drew dives down and stirs up a school of fish for us, they rush all around us and I’m trying as hard as I can not to run into them.
Back on the boat, our trusty guide pulls out a perfectly ripe pineapple and cuts it up for us. Fresh delicious pineapple after a 30+ minute swim is probably one of the nicest treats.
Jason exclaims he doesn’t like pineapple, but after Natasha insists he takes a bite and decides he’s never had a good pineapple before this moment.
A long and beautiful day, we head back to shore, bellies full of fruit as the sun is setting. Other boats are abundant now as the sun is setting, the large catamaran on the horizon looks beautiful against the fire skies and a packed inflatable boat with around 12 people on it jet past us closer to shore. It’s that moment when I decide how nice it was to have a small group for the special attention as well as to quell my fears. On the way back I vow to take up swimming lessons before the end of the year.