Saturday, September 29, 2012

Anniversary trip to Kauai


This photo was originally taken during our honeymoon back in 2004. That was our very first trip to Kauai. Life was so simple back then. It was just Sandy, myself and a beautiful island to explore at our leisure. We fell in love with it's lush verdant landscapes, towering green seaside mountains and quiet easy going lifestyle. After we returned to the mainland, life seemed to speed up on its own. Fast forward 8 years, add 3 kids, a house, our careers and we now have a very busy family life. Every moment seemed to be filled with some sort of appointment or errand. Weekdays consisted of work, school drop offs/pick ups and random errands. There was a time when we had to drop off and pick up the kids from 3 different locations each day. Noah would be at one of our parents, Ethan was at one preschool and Megan was at another kindergarten. The weekends weren't any easier. There was always swim practices, piano lessons, T-ball practices, endless birthday parties of family, friends and random classmates. Our vacations quickly turned into "stay-cations," where we would take a week off but not go anywhere because the grandparents needed to take a vacation and we had to cross cover the little rugrats. There was no way I would drag 3 little kids and the mountain of assorted child gear and supplies through an airport. Once in a while, Sandy and I would manage a brief escape down to San Diego for the weekend and stay in the Gaslamp district, but those occasions were few and far between. At the beginning of this year, Sandy and I decided that we needed to take a real vacation. If you carefully read between the lines that specifically meant "no kids allowed". We were long overdue for one and the solution was to be found on the beautiful island of Kauai.


If you would please indulge me for a moment before I go on about our vacation, I would like to briefly talk about Photography. It IS the title of my blog. Above is a photo of all the photography equipment that I DIDN'T bring with me on this trip. The last time I traveled to Hawaii was for my sister-in-law's wedding, 2 years ago. She had asked me to photograph her wedding and so the overzealous photographer in me brought all of the above equipment on the trip. What can I say? I wanted to be prepared for anything and everything.


Here's what I ended up bringing this time around. I learned my lesson. Even though Hawaii is a photographer's paradise, I did not want to drag all of my cumbersome DSLR gear with me. I made up my mind that I was going to travel light. The entirety of my photography gear used on this trip consisted of Sandy's Canon S100 point and shoot camera, a small gorilla pod and last but not least, my trusty iphone4 camera. Yup. I did not want to trek around the island with a heavy DSLR camera hanging off my neck and camera bag of assorted lenses on my back. I would solely make do with only that which could fit in my cargo short's pockets. The rest I would leave up to creativity. With those technical details out of the way, let's get on with the show!


Finally, Sandy and I were off for our long overdue real vacation. Woo Hoo. Cue the Hawaiian ukelele music!!!


After checking into our hotel, it didn't take us long to find our way to the beach. With our toes in the sand and a cool breeze blowing through our hair, we could feel the stress just melt away.


The hotel was located at the entrance of the Nawiliwili harbor. Say that name three times fast! Everyday we would watch cruise ships go in and out to dock while the surfers and paddle boarders played in the water. I spent a lot of time staring out over the harbor admiring the towering green mountains which guarded the harbor like peaceful giants.


After dinner, we would walk along the beach and take in the quiet sunsets. Sounds cheesy and cliche right? However, when you have no kids to bathe, homework to do or lunches to prepare, quiet evening strolls are a luxury to be savored.


And here in this pic, we just finished dinner. I placed the canon point and shoot on the gorilla pod and set the timer for 10 seconds. It took a few tries to properly position the camera and tripod. I kept on getting shots of our knees since the tripod is so short.


One morning, I went for a run. I headed out from the hotel and followed a path that meandered across a neighboring golf course. It had magnificent views of the harbor and the refreshing ocean breeze made the sunrise run that much more enjoyable.


I spent many an afternoon staring up at this view while reclining on a lawn chair and reading a book. As we watched the clouds pass overhead, the most difficult decision of the day was what to have for dinner.


I found the perfect place for a kiss. Never mind the fact that we had to travel over 2600 miles to get to this exact spot. that I think about it, any of you bachelors out there need an idea for a cool place to propose? Just send me an email. I will hook you up with the gps coordinates. I'm telling ya. This spot is money!


The odd thing about Kauai, there are chickens EVERYWHERE. Seriously, you see wild chickens on the beach, at the airport, even on the highways. The only place I didn't see any was in the parking lot around a KFC. Hrm... Go figure.


Here are some lovely flowers around our hotel that caught my eye while walking back from the pool.


The Marriot Hotel had an amazing circular pool which was right next to the beach. Everyday, we would spend the hot afternoons cooling off at this pool. It was relaxing just to float and swim around and around it.


Here is a shot of the pool at night. It has 5 jacuzzis.


The cruise ships would come into the harbor in the morning and then leave at sunset. The fading sunset reflected off the clouds and lit up the waves nicely for this iphone4 shot. Not too shabby for a camera phone.


Even the clouds are prettier out here.


Breakfast at Kukui's. It's a great place to drink your coffee and eat your omelet while the chickens and ferral cats scamper about under the tables looking for a morsel. It would often rain while we were there. The rain was always brief, lasting only about 10 minutes or so. However there is just something cool about drinking coffee at an open air restaurant with the rain pitter pattering next to your table.


With the breakfast brunch buffet included in our hotel stay package, I think I've satisfied my quota of bacon for a good year...or two. I'm probably gonna hold off on checking my cholesterol for a bit.


One night, we were waiting in line for another restaurant when this heavenly smell caught my attention. We ended up going back to Kukui's for their Mongolian BBQ. They gave us a big asian ramen bowl to fill with raw ingredients and a sauce of your choice. You then hand it over to the chef who cooks it up on these large circular cooking surfaces. It was quite tasty.


Here's a shot of the beach and the lawn chairs where we would relax while reading a book or magazine. Notice how empty and quiet the beaches are? One of the advantages of having our kids in a year-round school system, is that it allows us to take a vacation right after most kids go back to school. That means less crowds which is just fine by me.


After a couple of days of lounging about, we decided it was time for some adventure. Sandy has always wanted to try ziplining. We approached this activity with some trepidation since both Sandy and I are afraid of heights. To give you an example, remember that gondola "people mover" ride at the San Diego Zoo that takes you over the zoo and drops you off at the polar bear exhibit? That thing freaks me out! I hate it. I even have trouble with ferris wheels for pete's sake. How was I going to handle ziplining? I looked at their brochure and from the pictures, it didn't look that bad. How little did I know that soon, I would be hanging from a cable suspended midair over 900 feet off the ground.


We signed up with Kauai Backcountry Adventures. After we geared up, 10 of us were driven on the back of this 6 wheeled military looking transport vehicle way into the back country. It was an off-roading adventure just to get to the first zipline. We bounced along private dirt roads that took us deep into a forest that looked like something out of Jurassic Park. I was having a great time, right up until the point where the transport vehicle pulled up to the summit. As I looked across the grand canyon like valley that spread out way below us, my jaw dropped and I yelled out a girly, "OMG!" The other participants sitting around me, looked over to where I was pointing and with a sharp intake of breath, their respective jaws dropped to the floor in unison.

Here we are suited up and ready to zip. Beneath that smile, I'm sure I was thinking, "whose crazy idea was this again?!"


As if the 900 ft, plummeting cliff wasn't already high enough off the ground, they had to erect this "launching pad" just to give you a clear 360 degree view of all the empty air around and especially below you. Standing up there reminds me of standing at the edge of the top diving platform at the local aquatics facility, only multiply that height by 30. Did I mention that I was afraid of heights?


Here we are waiting for our turn to face death. Safety is of course of the utmost importance. However I couldn't figure out how wearing these rinky dinky plastic helmets was going to make any bit of difference if something bad went wrong out there. Later after I had completed a zip and was walking up the ramp backwards ( I was watching Sandy come in for a landing), I walked right into the cable which was head level and almost clothes-lined myself. Luckily I was wearing my safety helmet. *light bulb!*


Here's my fearless wife sporting her avant guard fashionable safety helmet. Reminds of that 80s band, Devo. Whip it! Whip good!


The harness is secured around your core section. You are required to wear closed toed shoes and pants or shorts that extend to at least your knees. This prevents abrasions on your thighs from the harness. They also suggest that you remove all items from your pockets. I almost forgot that I had my wallet, iphone and rental car keys in my pockets right before my first zip. I can't imagine how much that would have sucked if those items fell out of my pocket into the jungle below as I was swinging like tarzan. You are also required to hold onto the center strap with at least 1 hand according to the zipline guides. If you were to let go completely, there is a good chance you would flip over backwards and hang upside down for the remainder of the zip. We were also informed that the manufacturer of this particular harness system did not design it to hold you if you were hanging upside down. There is a good chance you would probably slip out. The thought of this terrifying predicament convinced me to use both hands to hold onto the center strap. However just to show you how brave or dumb I was (depending on how you look at it), I started going one-handed. Why would I do such an incredibly stupid thing? Why, so that I could film myself doing such an incredibly stupid thing and then later post it on my facebook page and blog. Brilliant!


Unfortunately, even with the pictures and video, the viewer still can't get a sense of depth of field and the extreme height at which we were zipping at. In the picture above, if you drew a line from Sandy down towards the edge of the ramp, you still cannot see the bottom of the valley below her. One last thing that I will mention is that weight matters. There is a weight limit. Of course there is a maximum weight limit. I think it was 250 lbs. However there is also a minimum weight limit. Interestingly, the lighter you are, there is a chance that you will not have enough momentum to make it all the way across. You may actually stop before you make it to the other ramp. In which case the guide has to try to throw a line to you. If you catch it, then he will be able to pull you in. However often times people are so scared, they are holding onto their center strap with both hands white knuckled. In this case, the guide would have to crawl out to the stranded individual, wrap his legs around that person's waist and then manually pull themselves back to the ramp. Fearing this possibility, I always made sure to take a good running leap at the start of every zip to ensure I had enough momentum. I found it also helps if you let out a primal yell as you leap off into the abyss. Banzaaiii !!!!!


On our last full day in Kauai, we decided to go hiking. As one of my most favorite activities, hiking in Kauai is like getting to play football at the Superbowl. Kauai has some of the most breath-taking hiking trails in the world. We packed up my camelbak and drove up to the top of Waimea Canyon. At the very top where the road ends, you will find the Pihea Trail.


32) This trail starts at the Kalaua lookout and runs along the mountain ridgeline. On the right side of the trail, you will see a lush green forest valley as far as the eye can see. To the left, is a sheer 5140 foot drop to the Kalaua Valley below which meets the ocean. I refer to this area as a cloud forest because you are literally hiking in the clouds because you are so high up. When we first got to the parking lot of the lookout, it was pouring cats and dogs. Sandy was hesitant to head out on the trail so we waited for about 10 minutes. The rain lightened up into a soft drizzle and so we proceeded with our hike. I was annoyed at myself for having forgotten to pack any sort of rain gear for this hike. Luckily there were only patches of passing drizzle and fog. At first the Kalalau Valley floor was hidden in clouds and there was nothing to see from the lookout area. Perhaps this was a good thing because the view from that height is quite vertigo-inducing. Remember, I'm scared of heights. The above photo was taken at the end of our hike when the clouds had passed. The photo below shows the blanket of clouds at the start of the hike.


Here is Sandy leading the way, wearing my fuel belt for hydration.


The trail starts out very wide and flat. The dry clay makes for grippy footing and an easy start to the hike. This unfortunately lures casual tourists from the lookout area onto the trail as you can tell by their inadequate footwear. I would not recommend going on this trail with flip flops. After the initial easy section, it gets quite muddy, slippery and technical as you will soon see.


Here's a shot of the Kalalua side of the ridge. The fog hangs thick and ominous.


Soon the trail gets muddy and the view off to the left and right are obscured by dense trees. Thick raindrop covered ferns grow along the sides of the trail. The shade would be nice if the sun was actually out.


As we made our way deeper into the jungle, there is a part of the trail that is referred to as the Swamp trail. Some sections are so wet, muddy and overgrown, that the forest rangers had to placed a series of wooden planks to help hikers get by.


Later on the trail gets very technical. It starts to climb abruptly and is constantly wet and muddy. We found ourselves, holding onto roots and branches to climb up these muddy sections. I also saw a few other hikers heading back with their butts all muddy and stained. Slip and falls are common and extreme caution should be exercised.


The wet mud makes a constant squishing sound beneath my shoes. These Merrel Trail Gloves worked well for me. It is a minimalist shoe with an ultra thin sole. It allows my feet and toes to curl which helps my foot grip the muddy footholds and roots. I also have a better feel for the ground giving me more feedback as to my foothold and balance. I never slipped once on this trail despite the challenging terrain.


In hindsight, wearing white shoes on this trail probably wasn't the best idea. At least she wasn't wearing flip flops like so many others we saw.


Muddy feet, muddy hands. This trail requires 4 wheel hiking.


After hiking on this trail for over an hour, we decided to turn around and head back. On the way back, the blanket of clouds slowly started evaporating, giving us a precious glimpse of the famous Kalalau Valley cliff walls.


The flora found in this isolated ecosystem is quite unique. Here is what I believe to be is a type of moss growing along the side of the trail. It almost glowed like a delicate piece of coral.


Imagine my reaction, when I made it up to the next clearing and came across this stunning view of the Kalalau Valley floor. Finally the clouds had passed and I could see all the way down to the beach and ocean. Between the dizzying sensation of vertigo from the sheer cliff drop and the incredible colors of the valley and ocean below, I was utterly awe struck.


My photos simply do not do justice to the beauty of this place.


In order to take in the full beauty of this moment, you have to be standing here feeling the wind against your face, smelling the ocean and hearing the wild birds calling from somewhere far down below in the valley floor. It's like something out of a movie, almost too perfect to be real.


Here is a shot of the Kalalau Valley with my iphone4 + Instagram. Again not too shabby for a cell phone camera.


Sandy and I mugging with the scenic view. Later when she viewed this pic, she was annoyed with me because I hadn't warned her that her hair was sticking out. Really? We are standing in front of one of the true natural wonders of the world and you are worried about how your hair looks? LOL.


On the drive back down, we stopped by a look out which gave us an amazing view of the Waimea Canyon. Imagine finding a Grand Canyon in the middle of Kauai. I actually think the view is more beautiful than the Grand Canyon because of the rich red and green color hues that make up the cliffs on the other side.


What an end to such an amazing hike and amazing vacation.


You know you had a fun hike when you get back home looking like this. We were questioned by a few other tourist wondering, "where have you been?!" I was proud of our muddy feet.


And so I conclude this post with one final photo. If you scroll all the way back to the top of this post, you will see the photo that I originally took 8 years ago on our honeymoon. You will see a couple standing above the beautiful Waimea Canyon, with their sexy wind blown hair all over the place. Since this vacation was a belated anniversary of sorts, I tried to recreate that same photo for posterity's sake. Much has changed in our lives since I originally took the photo. We have aged some, matured a bit and become parents of 3 wonderful children. Life will never be the same for that doe-eyed, newly wed couple. It is ever changing and ever evolving. There will always be challenges around ever corner and new surprises that we must muddle through the best way we can. However, there is one thing that I am certain of and that is that I'm glad I can share this trail in life with my beautiful hiking buddy, Sandy (muddy hands, funny hat hair and all). Cheers!

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