Sunday, July 8, 2007

8-July 07

In all my research on Kauai, it became evident that the thing to do here is take a helicopter ride. Much of the island is rugged, impassable wilderness, and some of the interior receives as much as 480 or more inches of rain annually. Kauai is the oldest of the Hawaiian islands, and with so little of it developed and so much of its landscape untouched and virtually untouchable, it's no wonder the island is best seen by air.

I chose Air Kauai, as I'd heard great things about their level of professionalism, I was told their helicopters had the biggest and best windows (even skylights and "foot" windows!), and I was comforted by their (knock wood) perfect safety record in 18+ years of operation. We scheduled back-to-back "baby-swap" tours for the grown-ups (when Noby and Susie went up, we watched the kids, and vice versa--our rental van came equipped with a DVD player, so Sawyer and Sadie were easily entertained by Lilo and Stitch, which was "set" on Kauai).

We were in the capable hands of Hawaii native and Vietnam veteran combat helicopter pilot Jody, who is retired but simply loves flying and showing off the beauty of the island he calls home. (He also happens to be one of the paddlers we saw training on the river yesterday!) Through Bose noise-reducing headphones, we listened to his informative tour narration as well as an apt soundtrack (nothing too cheeseball, but some nice musical swells during the most breathtaking views, some classic Hawaiian ballads, etc.). We also had microphones to ask questions, talk amongst ourselves, etc., during the hour-long flight.

Susie and Noby caught a rainbow on their flight (rainbows are shaped like a complete circle from the air--neat!), but Mike and I weren't as lucky. We did, however, score the two front seats (these helicopters seat six passengers--four in the backseat--and the pilot determines the arrangement by the safest, most balanced weight distribution. [They don't take your word for it; you're discreetly weighed at check-in.]). Jody's ride is ultra-smooth (the smoothest Noby has ever experienced, in fact, and he has ridden in quite a few helicopters during his career with the National Park Service) and covers nearly the entire island (including rivers, Mount Kawaikini, Mount Waialeale--the "wettest spot on earth"--hundreds of waterfalls, Waimea Canyon, taro fields, cities, the coastline, and so much more) and both flights were outstanding. Jody hovers so close to the beauty that you feel you could reach out and touch the earth--and yet he is ever mindful to avoid hiking spots (in his words, "the last thing you need after hiking for 14 hours is a helicopter buzzing you"). I was positively overcome when he maneuvered us into one area along the Na Pali coast that formed a natural cathedral.

I don't mind sharing that Jody called me a "goddess"--he said that in island legend, redheads are revered as goddesses. (And why the heck not?)

In the air, Jody pointed out some production tents for the filming of Tropic Thunder (we'd seen a "Tropic Thunder Crew" sign when we were driving earlier this week as well). It's a movie starring Ben Stiller (I understand he has a home in the Kilauea area; he co-wrote the screenplay to this film and is producing it as well), Jack Black, Robert Downey, Jr., Owen Wilson, Nick Nolte, Jay Baruchel, Bill Hader, Steve Coogan, and Tom Cruise (some of those in cameo roles, no doubt). Set to release in the summer of '08, it's a DreamWorks Pictures and Red Hour Films comedy/parody about a group of actors who are set to shoot a big-budget war movie only to find themselves living it for real.

The pre-filming cast and exec party is in Kapa'a a couple of days after we leave the island, and filming begins a week from tomorrow (and ends in November). I hear they may still be casting for a Vietnamese toddler boy, athletic folks for stunts, and women who can dance, so if you fit the bill and want a gig in the Garden Island....

Or there's always "Kauai Idol"--we have come across the poster-board call for auditions a few times now.

We followed our flights with brunch at Gaylord's, a beautiful and relaxed courtyard restaurant on the historic, 35-acre Kilohana Plantation Estate, where Mike enjoyed not one but two "Cajun Ahi Benedict" plates in addition to the many buffet offerings. The plantation is lovely (both the home and gardens) but it's rather commercialized with all its shops, galleries, and tours.

On the way back to the Sheraton, we detoured to Lawa'i to find Susie's manju. The selection was minimal (it's a small stand inside the nondescript Menehune Food Mart), but she was pleased with her haul nonetheless (I don't care for manju, but I'd say the offerings at the market next to Duane's Ono Char-Burger in Anahola were superior). While there, I picked up some anti-itch cream for some relentless bug bites. It's not helping.

(I do believe there's Spam in those rolls on the bottom...yep, that's right, there's such a thing as Spam sushi. And as I recall, several Ikedas like it. A lot. We're apparently in the Land of Spam: more of the gelatinous pink pork product, aka "Hawaii's soul food," is consumed here than in any other state in the U.S. We're talking nearly six million cans a year, or almost six cans apiece for every man, woman, and child. Musubi is the ready-to-eat, no-need-to-refrigerate Spam snack that resembles an over-sized piece of nigiri sushi. If you so desire--I don't--you can buy your very own musubi at nearly any convenience or grocery store in Hawaii for about $1.50. Or, for free, you can check out Howard Yoon's recent NPR ode to Spam--complete with recipes!)

Back at the hotel, Sawyer and Sadie got Mike and Noby to take them swimming, and the rest of the girls spent a lazy afternoon watching skim boarders, boogie boarders, and sun worshippers from the lanai before we all enjoyed a low-key room-service dinner (great burgers; skip the chocolate souffle).

It seems they aren't "Hawaiian shirts" when you're actually in Hawaii--they're "aloha shirts!"


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