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Sunday, September 30

Aloha and mahalo, paradise and friends.

NOTE: Pictures have been added with more on the Flickr link. You have been spared any of me in a bathing suit. I just don't think your ready for that jelly.

We’ve been back from paradise for just shy of a week now. I’ve started to write about it many different times, but never seemed to come up with the best way to start. Plus, writing about it means that it is truly over, which is truly heartbreaking.

So Kauai. Well… at a picnic area on the top of a mountain that we stopped at during out first day’s hike, I collapsed onto a picnic table to stare up and find these words written on the covering’s ceiling… “If you love Kauai, tell your friends to go to Maui.” I really wish I could send everyone I know to another island and selfishly leave Kauai all to myself and to the small 16,000 tourists it has visiting on a daily basis. But sadly, I cannot be that selfish to you.

Kauai is perfection. Should you ever have the chance to visit, I encourage it wholeheartedly.

Of course, I have never been to any of the other islands so my opinion should mean very little to you. Yet somehow, I just know that there couldn’t be much beyond the perfection of this island in any of the others. Certainly not in the islands that have become commercialized and filled with high rises. At least for me, anyway. My love for this island, I truly do not know how to express. The crazy thing is… I would have never seen it if it wasn’t for friends back home.

When I left DC, a friend told me that Japan might be a stretch to get to, but she and her husband had always planned on a Hawaii vacation. She mentioned meeting there… halfway for the both of us. Not willing to ever turn down a good time with friends, we began planning not long after I arrived here in Japan, starting with research on which island to choose. Kauai had a little bit of everything we were looking for on paper, and we realized so much more even as we flew in to the sight of sandy beaches, turquoise waters and majestic mountains with their tips obscured in dark and misty clouds.

We all arrived in the late morning, picked up the rental car we would cover in salt and sand both inside and out, and headed straight to Costco to load up our condo with breakfasts, lunches and snacks. No sooner was the car unpacked and we were in bathing suits and headed out for our first hours of beach time.

Now Kauai is a larger island than I expected. I had read about the diversity that is seen in weather and climate from the different sides of the island, but I was not prepared for how drastic the differences were. We had chosen Poipu Beach on the south side of the island… and ranked as some of the best beaches in the world. From the lanai of our condo, we could watch the ocean just at the end of the street. In only a minute, we were walking along the shore line, a mix of lava rock and sandy stretches known for varied activities. Directly in front of our condo, we watched our first endangered monk seal playing in between the crevices carved out by ancient lava flow. The first stretch was known for boogie boarding. We waded in, aware of the signs warning of strong currents. The husbands showed the guts and headed out into the bigger waves. The wives took it slowly, and eased themselves in up to their wastes before deciding another beach would be better for them.

The next beach over is known for snorkeling. As it was our first day, we were unprepared for these types of beaches. Barefoot, we wandered out while the sharp coral under our feet threatened to prick holes into our soles, the current only aiding the coral and making it difficult to wade in. Still we persevered and enjoyed the best temperature of water I have ever had the pleasure of enjoying.

The day had been planned to take it easy, which included a nice meal out, so we headed back to the condo to unpack and get ready. Keoki’s is located on the south side and is known for its Hawaiian style and fresh fish dishes. With tiki torches keeping the room aglow, we managed to choose among fish names that many of us had never heard before. I went with the ona. For someone who isn’t a huge fish eater… this thing was heaven. Topped with frozen Mai Thais where the dark rum swirled on top of the juice below, the night and the restaurant was the perfect start.

On our second day, we had scheduled a helicopter tour and then an afternoon hike. First, if any of you do know our traveling companions from back home, then you surely know how well-planned this trip was. Even I the queen of strategic (read: excessive) planning cannot compare to the master that was with us on this trip. While I tried to help where I could, this woman single handedly made this trip perfect and amazing. Which brought us to Jack Harter Helicopters, the company we discovered had crashed the least in recent years. Yes, the helicopter thing was not the safest, but I was not missing a chance to see the magnitude of beauty on this island from the air. After a brief demonstration on where to find the barf bag (right in front of you… just in case), up we went. Seriously, don’t make me try to explain the magnitude of the beauty that can be seen from the air. I just can’t. Again… isolated stretches of sandy beaches, mountains that looked like they were trying to cut the sky with their sharp peaks, cliffs that fell into the sea, valleys filled with both green and others with red from the clay that covers the island, a canyon that rivals ye old Grand one and crystal clear waters that ended in white froth along the shore. My camera… it was overwhelmed. There was simply no way to capture this on film. Like Nike will tell you, just do it.

Back on solid ground, we headed towards the east side for our first hike. Lunch was eaten at the foot of Nounou Mountain, also known as the Sleeping Giant. Why? Because it looks like a sleeping giant. According to our book, The Ultimate Kauai Guidebook, local folklore says that if the island was to be invaded, Kauai’s people would light fires behind the giant in order to illuminate his profile at night. Then the invaders would think that there were some “really big dudes” and would therefore rethink the invasion. Tidbits. Anyway.

Up the mountain we went. You may have figured it out before, but I had a kidney stone just prior to our trip. My friend Tommy. Well, Tommy went to Kauai with me. It was on this mountain that he and I would take our stand against one another. The hike included a 1,000 feet elevation gain. I should have been more daunted at this thought than I was at first. It took only the first half hour to make me realize what I had done to myself. As we made our way up this trail that often saw cliffs right off to one or the other edge, I felt sure I would break down from the pain. I slowed the whole entourage down repeatedly as I tried to talk the pain in my side down. Even now, I am so thoroughly grateful that no one seemed upset for my miserable pace. I assured them repeatedly that I was fine to be left alone on the trail so they could hike to the top and I could sit and cry in peace. At three quarters of a mile in, they kept me going, telling me I was halfway there. Between spurts of Tommy bites and moments of hyperventilation, I somehow got through the 1 ½ mile uphill battle to get to the top. I think my own silent prayers helped. The reward was yet another chance to take in more glorious views of the island. And half-melted trail mix. Yum. The way down was almost as unpleasant as the hike up. Every dig step I took as I made my way down, Tommy jarred into my side, causing me to suck in more than my share of dirt. On the trip up and back, I carried my coveted bottle of Percocet, but not once did I partake until I made it back to the condo. I wanted to! God, how I wanted to. But I feared falling off the side of the cliff as my dopiness would increase triple-fold. I just kept the thought of the drugs in my mind as we made one stop on the way home, to take in the Wailua Falls, made famous for being in the opening scene of Fantasy Island. There is a hiking trail down to the falls, but I was not prepared for swimming there or more hiking, so we all choose to just enjoy the beauty and then head back to base central.

The first thing I did, take one of those glorious pills and wash it down with an Amstel Light (not doctor recommended). We got cleaned up and headed to enjoy the amazing view from the bar at the Grand Hyatt, a magnificent open air hotel near our condo. More girly frozen drinks with umbrellas and fruit, snack food for dinner on the lanai, the sun setting in background, and another day gloriously spent.

By morning, Tommy had left my side. The doctors say exercise helps pass these things. Guess they weren’t kidding. Although, next time I will be scaling back a bit on the whole sum of the exercise. I do, however, feel that frozen concoctions were key to promoting resistance to and passage of pals like Tommy.

Our third day came on Monday with excursions planned for the north shores of the island. We started off early with our first spot being Hanalei Bay where a walk along miles of pristine beaches in near solitude awaited us. To get to this end of the island, we spent some time on winding northern roads through thick and luscious green scenes. On this part of the island, we ran into Kauai’s famous one lane bridges… numerous one lane bridges. Etiquette on the island has all vehicles from one side going at once, which can lead to a bit of a back up on the other side. But knowing the laidback spirit of the island, no one is in a rush to get anywhere so it doesn’t seem to matter much that you may be waiting. We were keeping our eye out as we drove around the northern shores. This is where you are likely to bump into Pierce Brosnan, Bette Midler and other celebrities. Unfortunately, tree-cutting Bette and friends were no where to be found.

This north side is the rainy and cooler side of the island, a direct opposite to our hotter and drier southern side. At Hanalei Bay, we made our way along the water that is anchored by towering mountains to the west and a river to the east. Sprinkles of rain fell on us, but it was the kind of rain we welcomed as we walked in the warm sun. This beach is well known for surfing, but the seas were calm that day leaving many to find waves elsewhere around the island. After absorbing the area, we were off to the next stop, Paradise Beach Hut… known for being one of the best shaved ice places on the island. Shaved ice being a specialty in Kauai. And no kidding was this place the best! We checked out one of the other top spots, but this one blew it away. This ain’t your Ocean City, MD shaved ice, kids. It was like eating soft snow with the good kind of coloring to it.

Filled of ice, we headed even further north on the road. Actually as far as one can go… to Ke’e Beach that marks the beginning of the Na Pali coastline, an area that can only be gotten to by hiking, boating or jumping out of a helicopter (not recommended). By far, this place was my favorite beach on the island. We came prepared for this place, complete with water shoes and snorkeling gear and we were so glad we did! Ke’e is a lagoon where the water just happened to be calm enough for perfect snorkeling and swimming conditions, despite the SIX signs that warned beach patrons about seriously disturbing water conditions at this area. Complete with our pink noodles (the girls only, of course) and snorkeling gear, we hit the water and honestly could have stayed at this location, and in this water, all day. I tried to capture the magnitude of the mountains that embraced the side of the lagoon, but it was simply impossible. That image will have to remain only in my mind.

But there were still other plans for the day, so after lunch, we packed up our stuff and headed to a beach in one of our guidebooks that promised swimming in secret lava pools. The book mentions a short walk to the beach, but what it didn’t mention about that walk is that it is down a crazy steep incline, not suitable for the Reef flip-flops I was wearing, that I immediately dreaded regarding the hike back up. Nonetheless, we were determined to get to this beach despite the trek that loomed in front of us. We couldn’t be happier that we did. After a few missteps on the sharp lava rock and a small climb up those same dreadful mineral masses, we passed by the pools, but did come upon a waterfall that cut down the mountain side and ended in another lava pool. Not missing our chance, we all took our turns in the waterfall, slipping across the lava that has grown slick with algae over the years. We did trek back to the secret lava pools, but the consensus was that the tide was a bit low making the pools a smidge lower than we imagined, so we skipped entering them and instead headed back to the killer incline and the car.

A bit exhausted from sun and surf, we decided to come up with a place for dinner that we could get to as we made the long trip back to the south side. Kalapaki Beach Hut turned out to be the perfect place. Again, with help from our handy guidebooks, we located the best burger joint on the island. Even better, we could all eat in our bathing suits. At this place, no one said a word that I was only wearing a towel as I had not bothered to done a beach cover-up before heading up to place my order. My kind of place after a long day. It was evening by the time we got back to the condo, so beers and Mai Thais at our place were the order for the night, which we enjoyed until we could no longer keep our eyes open.

I’m not sure if you are getting this, but this was one active vacation. By the end of each night, I was ready for bed by 10 at the latest. Certainly not the wild and crazy party animal I used to be, but the sun, the surf and the activity took its toll. I was only too happy to be the lame one and head to bed first. Besides… there was always the next day to get mind and body ready for!

Our fourth day, Tuesday, began before the sun came up. We drove a few miles north to catch a sailing tour along the Na Pali coastline (sorry... no pictures can be put online as I was using a disposable water camera and have been too lazy to take it in, get it developed and get a CD). The catamaran held about 30 people, four crew members and a captain. Due to the early hour, breakfast muffins and breads were provided, a welcoming start to the 7 ½ hour tour. As we sped along the coastline, we came upon several schools of spinner dolphins who heard the sound of the boat and came directly over to it to check us out. The crew explained how the dolphins really like people, which they proved by having a few of the babies that were traveling with them perform of few of the spins they are famous for. It was amazing to see the number of dolphins all around the boat… at least twenty in the first school… and close enough to pet if we could have reached over the railing.

By late morning, we had traveled past the Na Pali coast and had arrived eighteen miles off the Kauai coast at Nihau Island, known as the forbidden island. No one is allowed to come ashore except for those that actually live there and work on the cattle and sheep ranches. As far as I can understand, trying to get permission to come ashore is seriously difficult. If I recall correctly, only about 250 people live on this tiny island. The island is privately owned, deliberately cut off from the outside world and therefore kept much in the same way that it was twenty years ago. This means no electricity and no plumbing. The population of this island is dwindling due to old age and a younger generation who has often left in search of better opportunities. It was a fascinating story, but a life I can’t imagine.

Just off the shores of Nihau, we reached Lehua Island, the tip of a sunken volcanic crater that is known as a good spot for open water snorkeling. I have to admit that I had some reservation with this idea. Who hasn’t heard of the sharks in Hawaii? The crew assured us that all was safe, despite admitting that they had seen a rather large tiger shark quite recently in this same area. This wasn’t the only time I had sharks on the brain. Every time I went into the water in Kauai, it occurred to me that this might be the end. The problem… the weekend before, I had watched Jaws on AFN. Bad move right before you head off to an island. Especially if you are someone like me who can own some crazy when she wants to. The whole idea of snorkeling in open water where I would have to be a darn strong swimmer to get back to the boat and safe myself, did give me a few extra heart beats that day. But not one to chicken out, I donned flippers and snorkel and headed for the back of the boat.

Thankfully the crew had… NOODLES! As my friend and I had been quite attached to our noodles, and had suffered some comments from the husbands, it was nice to get reassurance like this that we were indeed not the only ones in love with the noodle. Many were hoping into the water with noodle in hand. Even a man or two!

Me and my noodle… well we had an awfully good time. There were no sharks. Not as many fish as we had seen in other places, but just the depth of the area and the slight fear of open water were enough to make me thrilled with the location. Kimono Hubby was lucky enough to be in the area when another endangered monk seal swam past him.

Once we had all had enough of the water, we boarded the boat and the real service began. Lunch and all you can drink! Sitting on the sunny front of the catamaran as we floated off the coast of Lehua, it seemed like the trip couldn’t get better. Oh how wrong I can often be.

We had been warned about the trip back. The water is rough, they say. People will get sick, they say, even those that have never been bothered by seasickness before. We had taken our preventative Dramamine in the morning, but it had surely worn off by this time. People were removed from the front of the boat as well as the front of the inside cabin. Too many past complaints about people flying into the ceiling or something. We opted for a spot standing along the side of the boat, while most people choose to sit in the very back seats where the impact of the waves is supposed to be much less. However, you also can’t see what is coming OR the horizon for when you are starting to feel ill. Beers in one hand and the other hand firmly planted on the railing, we got one last warning not to bend our knees with the waves or when we straighten our legs back out, the boat won’t be there. Interesting thought, and I did try this a few times when I was almost certain I wouldn’t be thrown overboard. Within the first minute, we knew we were in for one hell of a ride. For the next two hours, the boat would often find itself below the level of the approaching wave, fly up over it, only to crash down on the other side. Completely. Awesome. Not so, said the people sitting in the back as the spent their time puking into buckets while the crew kept throwing it overboard. For the entire trip back, we stood there ordering more beers, which the most excellent crew would happily and quickly get to us. Only the people who were not enjoying the ride as much seemed a tad peeved about our high times. One lady even called out to that there must be some alcoholics up front. Not so, said us! We were just getting our money’s worth. One very important tip to keep in mind however, should you feel you are of the stock that can handle this… if you are going to drink all that beer, make sure you have an iron clad bladder. The last thing the crew said before taking off was that bathrooms should be avoided unless you like blue toilet water stains on your clothes. I can’t imagine trying to sit in there with waves like the ones we were enjoying. Ew. I did struggle towards the end for need of a bathroom. The husbands, well they said screw it with my own darling husband being the first to enter the head. He came out without a streak of blue on him. I’m so proud.

Towards the time that we got close to the docks, the rain started to pour down and sting us with salt-filled pellets. Only then did I finally give in and head inside for a seat for the rest of the trip back. While it is hard to say what activity I like best about Kauai, this one might have been it. Although my body was sure to feel the toll of this exercise the next day. Beat from the day, we headed back to clean up and then go locally for dinner at Pizzetta in the tiny town of Koloa. A heavenly place that was enough to fill us up before we called it a day.

Wednesday would be another physical day. Waking up, we find that our event planner had found out that there were spots available for us to take a 10:00 kayaking tour up the Wailua River (again the pictures are trapped in a disposable camera... and I haven't gotten any more motivated to do something about it than I was as I wrote about this before). Never having kayaked in my life, again I felt some nervousness, but not enough to keep me away. In two person kayaks, husband and wife had to get it together and stop arguing to get the kayak to go in one continuous straight line. No easy task if you have ever met the Kimono family. For I am a control freak and stubborn and he is much the same. The tour up the river was filled with zigs this way and zags that way. Upon reaching the place where we would dock the kayaks and begin the hike, our guide was kind enough to mock and yet compliment us… “Never have I seen a kayak go in zig-zags up the river that fast.” Yes, people… there was a lot of effort behind it, but seriously little coordination. It didn’t help that we were bumped twice by other beginners who knocked us into the trees along the shore of the river.

At the hiking point, we put gear on our backs and made our way to the other side of the river and up onto the shore. Soaked from waist down… just perfect when you are starting a long hike. The trail that we were taking ends up at a waterfall that you can only get to by kayaking… and then hiking. It wove itself through an hibiscus woodland and then a mango forest, where one rather large branch threatened to take out a member of our small entourage as it cracked off and came flying down, only to land directly in the middle of our group. The shock worn off, we moved on to begin the climb down the rocks into the waterfall area where we could enjoy lunch and the water. The icy water, that is! This water was by far the coldest we experienced on the entire island! I made my way into the waterfall for a quick snapshot, but quickly made my way back to the shore.

Our lunch gone, we began to make the hike back to the kayaks. The guide was one of the best so far, entertaining us with his life story of how he wakes at “o’dark 10” and then enjoys an easy kayak trip (to him!) and hike, enjoys a mango lunch by a waterfall, heads back and calls it a day by 2:30 or 3. This man’s gig was enough to make me consider a life like this. Of course, I need to work on my kayaking skills, but this isn’t impossible, I say.

Now the one thing the guide had said as we started off was that the kayaking should be pretty easy with no current either way. Liar! Heading back, we caught a head wind that made our arms burn from the immense effort of keeping us moving forward instead of backward. By the time we made it back to the docks, I swear my arms had jellified.

But the day was not over! We packed back into the car and headed out to Lydgate State Park, boasted as the best place on the island to learn snorkeling thanks to the boulder enclosed pond that keeps the fish in and the ocean’s force out. Never have I ever snorkeled amongst such a diverse offering of fish. Again, let me admit a little something without feeling too ashamed. The idea of fish in the water really freaks me the hell out. I often didn’t put the snorkel mask on immediately so I could get myself accustomed to the water. Yet, that was often difficult when Kimono Hubby would shout out, "you should see that huge fish right next to you!” Thanks, sweetie. Way to help me stay calm. When I did finally don the mask, the situation was slightly worsened. While I couldn’t believe the sights under the water, I also couldn’t stand the thought that I would be standing in the middle of a school of 50 or so fish. Thanks to the guidebooks, my friend had read about taking a bag with bread in it and a hole in one end to feed the fish. The frenzy that this created seriously caused some heebie-jeebies when used near my own persons, but caused great amusement when a piece or two was thrown next to KH. Evil woman.

I must give credit to my husband for these water parts of our trip. As skittish as I am in the water, he impressed me repeatedly by holding my hand while I was in fishy full areas that freaked me out and even helped me swim through currents that a good swimmer would have laughed off, but I on the other hand felt sure would tow me out to sea, never to be seen again. I have taken vacations with others, but never has someone shown such patience with me. Just having him by my side when I started to get nervous, was enough to instantly calm me down. It was just one of those moments where I was reminded of how lucky I got in this life lottery.

The day had been another long, hard and fun one. With leftovers from Pizzetta waiting at the condo, we made a short stop only to get a Puka dog, a recommendation from our kayaking guide, and quite good despite the disgustingness of the name and the sound of the ingredients… veggie dog or bratwurst topped with chili-garlic-mayo sauce in hot, medium or mild and finally with your choice of fruity sauce topping. I went with pineapple. Gross. But good.

This quieter night allotted the perfect time for us to go and take in the sunset at the best spot on the island, Spouting Horn Beach Park. For me, these were the most peaceful moments I spent on the island, sitting on the lava rocks, drinking a few beers and watching the sun the sky ablaze. Spouting Horn itself is nothing to scoff at either. This is a blowhole formed from a small lava shelf. The waves thrust water into an opening, causing the water to shoot into the air from the blowhole. The whole scene in this area is something out of a travel magazine for Kauai. Perfect, like so many other places on the island.

By the time Thursday rolled around, we decided to take it a bit easier with more touring, but from the ease of our rental car's windows. Heading northwest, we drove up the winding road towards the tops of Waimea Canyon, a Grand Canyon of a smaller, but not less impressive, size. Stopping at all of the best lookouts per our handy guidebook, we got yet another good grasp of the diversity of the island. The temperatures continually dropped as we made our way up and the vegetation turned from dry clay to green trees to pine forests. At the top, there were extraordinary views of the other side of the Na Pali coastline. I know we saw a lot of this, but you just can’t get over the amazingness of it, no matter how many times you see it and from how many different angles.

There is a lodge towards the top known for their chili and cornbread. Considering we had spent the week eating sandwiches, grapes and trail mix for lunch, this was a welcome change for us all.

We were debating hiking the clay trail from this vista into the Alaka’i Swamp, but realized quickly that we did not have the trail gear necessary for this trip. Plus, the lady at the lodge who is supposed to provide help about the trails in the area, when asked about this one said… “it’s a swamp.” Not the glowing recommendation we were expecting. So all factors together, we skipped it and went to plan B. Another trail into nowhere to reach a beach. Seriously, the guidebooks we had showed us some pretty obscured places.

The road to this beach area gave directions like turn right on the first dirt road (a dirt road that was so rough and bumpy that at 10 mph, we were laughing hysterically as our seatbelts threatened to break loose, which would most definitely mean we would be flung from the car. Thank goodness we picked the SUV option that had suspension which could somewhat handle the bumps and dips, each placed less than a foot apart from the next. Should I have still been hanging out with Tommy, he surely would have been shaken out at this point of the trip. The next direction was to turn left at the monkey pod tree. And yet, there was no description of a monkey pod tree. How many people seriously know what a monkey pod tree looks like and therefore know when they saw one to turn at it? We guessed. We guessed right. And we arrived at another beach where the total number of patrons on the several miles long stretch equaled six, and that’s counting the tiny baby a couple had with them. There are obviously no facilities here, so next to the prickliest tree I have ever encountered, we slipped into our suits under the exposure of the great outdoors. Why not? It wasn’t like there was anyone around to see us. We girls did hold a towel up, although we were mocked by the husbands for the ludicrousy of doing so in such solitude.

The mistake we made here was not to put on sunscreen before we trekked across the extremely hot, sandy stretch. And this is sand that I have never encountered before. Your whole foot sinks down into it with each step you take. Flip-flops meant that the tops of you feet would be burnt by the burning hot and previously undisturbed sand. After struggling across the beach, we put our things down and crawled into the pool known as Queen’s Bath. This is a pool that fills with water at high tide and is left to warm during the day as the tide is out. It was seriously like bath water. To then step out and get into the water on the other side where the ocean waves broke along the shoreline was a bit of a shock because of the temperature difference.

Done with the hot sun and killer sand, we all trekked back to the car and head towards our last stop for the day… the second try at shaved ice, this time at a place called Joe’s Shack or something like that. Like I said, good… but not as good as Paradise.

This night was the latest I was up all week, thanks to reservations we were lucky to get at one of the best restaurants on the island, Beach House Restaurant. Placed along the waters of the Poipu beaches, we again opted for island fish dishes under the light of tiki torches, while we listened to the ocean waves crashing on the lava shoreline. Starting with the Kauai asparagus salad, topped with Kamuela tomatoes, red onions, goat cheese and a sherry vinaigrette and then ending with the macadamia nut crusted mahi-mahi with a citrus sauce... what could be more Hawaiian or more heavenly? Stuffed and happy, we called it a night.

Friday was to be our last day in paradise and I was really struggling with that. I wanted to be someone like many of our guides, who had come to the island on vacation and just never left. I tried numerous times to convince KH of this too. He was swayed, but obviously not into complete concurrence. Despite my sadness, the last day was still there to be enjoyed.

We had traveled so much that we really hadn’t spent much time on the side of the island we were staying on. So we went back to the snorkeling beach we had been on the first day to fully explore the area. The day was really a quiet one, with everyone seemingly lost in their own thoughts. A quiet day on the beach, hanging out on the condo’s lanai and then we had booked a beachside luau for the evening at the Sheraton just down the street. The luau was beautiful. The food was excellent. We even watched a man eat fire. Twice. And that was even after his arm caught on fire. But it still seemed that we all remained in our quiet, reflective states. For myself, I was just truly sad to see it end. While I may have seemed like I was joking about leaving it all behind and just staying on the island, there was a part of me who was honestly willing to do that very thing.

But early the next morning, end it did. Before the sun came up, we were headed towards the airport and we all would head back to opposite ends of the earth.

Aloha and mahalo, paradise and friends. We had such a wonderful time.

Tuesday, September 11

Ain't No Sunshine

It seems like my entire past year and two months spent in Japan have all been part of one, long rainy season. There seems to be much confusion about just when the official rainy season begins and ends. Some books will say that the rainy season in generally from early June to mid July. Some books have mentioned two rainy season, one being in the spring and one being in the fall. I would have to say that I am now thinking that the rainy season, more simply, just may never end.

And frankly I am not sure I even want it to! When it isn’t raining in the summer and fall, it seems that the humidity makes you feel like you are at the end of a long battle with emphysema and dealing with daily sweat rings under your butt cheeks. When it isn’t raining in the winter or spring, it seems that the dry air forces you into a long-term commitment with an intense moisturizer, which still does little to make your skin not feel like it isn’t going to crack open and spill out your insides.

When it rains, at least the humidity seems to be a relative constant… wet. It doesn’t matter if it is the hot rain or dry rain… it’s all wet.

Often the rain pours downs and feels like it is threatening the foundations of our home. Often it is merely a drizzle, but a drizzle that falls in such magnitude with other rain pellet-y friends that it might as well just downpour already.

Today is yet another day that it is raining. According to the weather report, the front is stretching from the northern most tip of the island to the southern most so we all will get to share in yet promises to be another glorious day or rain and gray skies. I’m no meteorologist, but the skies must have something to do with this being an island. That’s fine and all, but would it hurt for a tiny bit more blue? I can’t remember when I saw blue last.

This past weekend, Typhoon Fitow made a direct hit on this area. It was my first solid experience with a typhoon. Sure, there was Man-yi in July, but with out traveling, we missed out on the worst of it. Fitow on the other hand freaked me the hell out. The nearby navy base was shut down for two days. I stayed huddled into my house and steered clear of the second floor, where I was just sure the howling and whistling winds were prepared to suck off the roof and send me and my stuffed comfort duck flying into the air like Dorothy and Toto. After I did trek upstairs to try to get some shuteye, I barely kept them closed as the creaking got louder when the wind forced the walls of our house to move. Around 3 am, I decided to check on the scene outside. In my pjs and still with my stuffed duck, I crept out of bed, snuck downstairs and opened the front door, only to have branches and leaves come flying into the house to escape the winds that had just been tossing them down the narrow street. I took some tentative steps out of out entryway and into our driveway, but the minute the wind gave me its first solid push that moved me a few steps to my side, I charged back through the front door, proving I really didn’t have the guts to stand in the alley and see if I could fly.

They are calling for rain today, tomorrow, the next day and the day after that. Thank God I am out of here quite soon for another jaunt. Where brighter… BLUER… skies shall be upon me.

Tuesday, September 4

Much Ado About Nothing in Particular

Not out of the ordinary, August was a blur. My 34th birthday came and went early in the month with a small celebration of just Kimono Hubby and I at an upscale Japanese buffet (they call them "viking"... no, I don't know why) at Aries Sky Dining in Kamiooka. A cool retro vibe permeated the atmosphere in this circular restaurant that rotated on its axis, showing 360 degree views of the surrounding city under twinkling lights. As we had entered the room, the first thing the host asked was if we were the Kimono family. I guess there just aren’t many people sharing our surname in Japan. After being shown to our seats, a server quickly brought out two glasses of champagne. That husband of mine knows well what to ply me with. He had preordered everything to make the evening perfect, right down to the birthday cake… which they brought out only moments after we received the champagne. Since when do you blow out the candles first, then eat dinner, only to return to the cake at the end? Only in Japan.

After the romantic dinner night, we set out early the next day for the 28.5 hours of travel that brought us back to the states. From our arrival in DC, we spent a fantastical whirlwind two weeks seeing family and friends, stocking up at every store I have missed and gorging on every kind of food I can’t find in Japan. By the time we left, I was up four pounds and down a couple thousand. And every blissful second was worth it.

To return to Japan was so very hard. Saying goodbye to loved ones is, of course, the hardest part, but saying goodbye to American conveniences is no picnic either. But where my husband goes, so will I. Back to Japan we came and I spent the past week doing a bit of moping about.

On top of the sadness of saying goodbye, some know and some don’t, but we were trying to return to the states earlier than we had originally planned. It has come time for us to begin looking towards adding a tot into our family mix. We hoped to do so blanketed with the love and support of our families. There were a few doors open, but it seems that it is not in the cards for us to return just yet. We have received word that we will be committed to this location for the upcoming year. When next summer rolls around, we can again put in for stateside locations. While I never allowed my hopes to get too far up one way or another, I must admit to initially feeling a bit of disappointment.

But now it is time to shake all of that off. We began looking forward to our year ahead and are tossing around travel ideas that include both China and Australia. Plus, we have plans in the states for a friend’s Florida wedding in the spring. Of course, these all are being planned around anything that may happen in the next year. (God willing!)

The new semester started yesterday which means it is back to the daily study grind for me. If all goes according to plan, I will be done with that goal by the end of January. School is back in on base which means I am back to substituting as well. Plans were being scheduled with friends for new adventures here in Japan. With everything moving along quite well, I was getting back into my groove. I had regained my footing and my motivation. Until last night, that is.

Just prior to a new episode of Hell’s Kitchen (very old to you back in the states, but please don’t spoil who won for me), I felt a twinge in my backside. Thinking I had just strained something in recent workouts, I went for the Icy Hot only to discover within two minutes that I couldn’t stand up straight, sit down, lie down or pretty much stand my own skin. It took only the first time I fell to my knees for Kimono Hubby to insist on the hospital. With no makeup on and doning my favorite, paint-stained lounge pants that show a bit too much of the derriere, I was forcefully persisted into the car. I already knew the problem and it would be a kicker too. We shall call him Tommy. Tommy is 6 mm tall and is traveling down my left side. May he leave my tract as quickly as possible.

This may be an abrupt ending, but as Tommy is raising hell again, I must call it a day and return to my drug induced state of oblivion. Thank God for modern medicine cocktails.