Category Archives: U.S.

Kauai: Through The Eyes Of An Adventurer and A Local

September 17 – September 22, 2009

Where have I been?! The lack of updates here has not been for a lack of travel.  However, all of my travel this year has been within the Contiguous United States, much of it surrounding live music events.  I’ve been to Austin for SXSW, New Orleans for JazzFest, Michigan for Rothbury Festival, Santa Barbara for Nine Inch Nails – you get the picture.  As a result of all of this “music travel” and my desire to write frequently, I started an additional blog:  Rock Is A Girl’s Best Friend.  While not chronicling my travel tales, I have been blogging about my live music experiences.

Also, last year’s epic trip to visit the polar bears in Churchill is a hard one to follow-up! Little jaunts to San Diego, Palm Springs, and Seattle seem trite compared to that adventure.  (I am highly considering a return visit to Churchill this year, so stay tuned for that.)   However, last week I made a journey to Kauai that was so unique it felt like I traveled to another country.

Kalalau Valley

Kalalau Valley

Perhaps this trip won’t be considered all that unique for some people, but it was definitely different for me.  During previous trips to Kauai, I was always accompanied by my parents, and a bit too young to appreciate all the intrinsic beauty and the “joy of doing nothing.” Well, all of that’s since changed!

I’ve been to Oahu and Maui as an adult several times.  They’re nice of course, but they feel a bit commercialized.  In fact, during my last trip to Maui, we weren’t able to visit the waterfalls unless we paid for an escorted tour.  I asked a local about this, “C’mon – you know where there are waterfalls we can explore on our own. . . ”  To my surprise the local man responded, “No, actually, the waterfalls here are on private property.  The only people with keys to the properties are the property owners and tour operators.  My friends and I tend to march to our own beat which can make group tours a bit of a challenge, so we skipped waterfalls during the Maui trip a few years back.  We made up for it this time!

We also hit up some secluded beaches.  So secluded that sometimes we were the only ones there.  In addition to the absence of my parents, what made this trip unique is that I was guided by a local and both of us are quite adventurous.  By “adventurous” I mean: if my parents would have advised against it, we did it.  I’m not talking about jumping out of planes (although, that’s already on the itinerary for the next visit), but we did climb fences, traverse unkempt trails barefoot, and ignore “Danger” signs.  All with great reward. . .

Sunset over Hanalei

Sunset over Hanalei

I landed late Thursday afternoon and after a quick stop for lunch we headed straight to the beach.  The first beach we hit up was Hanalei, home of Puff The Magic Dragon.  The water was calm and warm, and the clouds looming above exacerbated the magical feeling that overtook us.  We ended up swimming in Hanalei until just after sunset.  Next, we enjoyed a relaxed dinner outside, at a nice restaurant on the North Shore.  We went to bed fairly early (although it was 3-hours later by my Pacific Time) so that we would be ready for Friday’s adventures.

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Sitting on the edge of a beautiful world

Friday: We got an early start, loaded the tent and sleeping bags in the truck, and headed for Small Tall Town Coffee, a great local shop in Kapaa. In addition to making the perfect Mocha, they also had delicious fresh honey spreads.  We picked up the recommended toasted almond & honey spread – the first item in the cooler for our upcoming night of beach camping.

After coffee, we went to a great local’s diner and had eggs and their signature Tropical Shorty pancakes with coconut syrup.  Yummmm! The places we ventured were not crowded, not your typical tourist stops, and in some cases unmarked or difficult to find – all of which made this trip even more spectacular.  We dined, hiked, and swam with the locals, never waiting more than a few minutes for any experience.  I’ve been asked not to post the names nor locations of some of the places we went, since part of their allure is that they are well-kept secrets and among the few places locals can visit to escape the hustle of tourists.

After breakfast we picked up food, firewood, and supplies for what would become a night of mystical beach camping.  With all our gear loaded in the truck, we headed south so we could get a view of Kalalau.  Originally, we discussed hiking the 11-mile trail some describe as treacherous and camping out at Kalalau.  However, there weren’t enough days during this vacation to work that in, so we decided to appreciate the magnificence of Kalalau from above.

Sitting on the edge of the Earth, way above the Ocean

Sitting on the edge of the Earth, way above the Ocean

We spent a while taking in the views.  I found it interesting that the designated “viewing areas” were well gated and secured, but if you continued to the end of the road, you could walk down a path and literally dangle your legs off the edge of the earth.  People watched us do it as if it were no big thing. . . until they got closer to the edge and saw the vertical drop.  Then, without fail, after an audible gasp, the men on the path would tease their wives and travel companions by getting as close to the edge as possible.

Entrance to Polihale

Entrance to Polihale

Next, we began the journey to Polihale. Polihale is one of those local gems, but you need to have 4-wheel drive and be willing to drive at least 5 miles over rocky, ditch-ridden, unpaved roads in order to get there.  I never saw any signs or arrows pointing to this beach and in fact, several of the roads we were on were unnamed (or rather, their names are not designated by signs). Important to note – you can camp on the beach at Polihale.  But you can also drive on the beach at Polihale.  So if you plan on camping on the sand, be sure to make yourself visible by building a camp fire or making a compound around your tent.  We saw several huge trucks traversing the sand throughout the night (mostly used to get from one side of the beach to the other than obnoxious joy riding).

Sunset at Polihale

Sunset at Polihale

Polihale means “House of the Po”, and Po is the Hawaiian afterworld. It is believed that this is the place spirits come before they “move on” by jumping into the sea.  Whether or not this is true or Hawaiian lore, there is definitely something mystical about Polihale.

We arrived just prior to sunset and waited for the sun to sink below the horizon before we set up our tent.  Once the sun set, we built a campfire to provide light while we got situated.  There were approximately six other groups of people camping on the beach, but everybody was substantially spread out.  Aside from the flickers of light bouncing off one of the campfires, all you could see were stars.  And because there were no obstructions (buildings or lights), the stars appeared visible from the ground behind us, all the way to the horizon.

What’s there to do with a campfire, but make S’mores?!  We perfected and ate S’mores, listened to one group of campers have a sing-off (which sometimes morphed into a sing-a-long), wished upon shooting stars, and drifted off to sleep. While sleeping under the stars at Polihale I experienced some of the most magical dreams yet.  They felt larger than life and exceptionally colorful – a bit like being in a fairytale.  When I awoke it almost felt like I never went to sleep because my dreams were so active and the “characters” so unique.

Saturday: We watched the sunrise at Polihale, packed up our gear and decided to head back to the North side of the island for more adventures.  But first – breakfast, of course.  I don’t remember the name of that diner either, but it was a really cute place with its own bakery (which made for an exceptional breakfast croissant).  We sat outside, leisurely sipping our coffee and discussing the day’s plans.

The thing about Kauai is that “plans” are extremely loose.  Conversations go something like: “Should we go to a waterfall, take a nap, or go swim in the ocean?”  While it’s entirely possible to accomplish all of those things in one day (and we did), there’s no need to commit to a “plan” in Kauai.  You can truly just go with the day and see how you feel, which leaves more room for spontaneity and adventure.

Wailua Falls

Wailua Falls

On the way back from breakfast, my friend took a sharp left off the main road toward Wailua Falls.  As with most things that are worth seeing in Kauai, you must first journey along a narrow, winding road.  I got used to the drives pretty quickly — anything was easier than that road to Polihale. We arrived at one of the Wailua lookouts and viewed this 80 foot waterfall from above.  It was spectacular, but what really caught my eyes was the beautiful body of water and river below.  The waterfall came thundering down into the most peaceful pool of water, and nobody was in it!  “You used to be able to climb above the waterfall,” my friend explained, “but people have fallen and died, so they closed it.”  Sure enough, there were gates and huge “DANGER” signs posted all along the perimeter.

“I don’t care about going above it,” I replied, “I want to go down there – I’d like to get IN it!”

My friend explained that this wasn’t possible.  There’s no way down. When I later recounted this story to another friend she said, “Wow. . . Ali must have forgotten who she was with.  You always find a way. . .” Ignoring Ali’s suggestion that a trek to the base of the waterfall was not possible, I began surveying the area closely.  Within minutes I saw people with inexplicably muddy feet and wet clothing.

“Look at them!!” I said to Ali.  “They’ve been somewhere wet and muddy – they’ve been down to that waterfall!”

“Maybe they came from somewhere else.  Look – there’s no way down,” Ali said, pointing all around us.

We continued walking up the road and ran into a local, Phill, whom Ali knew.  Phil was selling handmade wooden instruments at the top of Wailua Falls.  We chatted with him for a bit, played around on the instruments and then I pointed to the bottom of the falls and asked, “is there a way to get down there?”

“YES!” Phil’s face lit up as he explained, “If there’s one thing I tell people to do in Kauai, it’s hike down to the bottom of this waterfall.  You can even go behind it.”

“Great! How do we get down there?” I inquired.

“Follow this road around the bend.  You’ll see a place where people have pushed down the fence.  Go over the fence and start walking down the path until you get there.”

“Can we wear these shoes?” I asked, pointing to our flip flops.

Phil chuckled. “Don’t wear any shoes,” he offered helpfully.  “It’s really muddy and slippery down there and shoes get stuck and break.  There are a lot of broken shoes down there.  Go barefoot and grip the rocks and dirt with your feet.” And with that, we walked back to the car to ditch our shoes.

You've been warned

You've been warned

[Now, as with all adventures recounted in this blog, these are my personal stories, not my recommendations for you.  While I find these experiences extremely rewarding, I’m not suggesting that you go beyond your comfort-level, trespass, or endanger yourself in anyway.]

We took off our shoes, drank some water, and headed barefoot back down the road toward the man-made “entrance”.  We were greeted by a Danger. Keep Out sign and a lot of mud.  We stepped over the portion of fence that had been pushed down and carefully began to navigate our way down the hill.  The no-shoe suggestion was very helpful! Tree roots became the make-shift “steps” down the hill as we wound our way over and under branches, trees and bushes.  Some locals have put rope along the way which helps mark “the path” and can be used for additional stability when you’re making your way to the waterfall.

“Getting back up there is going to be interesting,” Ali said, after we had been walking for a little while.  Having not thought about that previously, I looked up at the steep, muddy hill behind us.  “So that’s what the rope is for! That’s going to be even more useful on the way up,” I replied.

We continued down the way until we arrived here:

We made it to the bottom!

We made it to the bottom!

Yes, it was worth it.  And extremely gratifying.

We swam around freely in the pool beneath the waterfall.  At one point, I floated on my back and looked up at the forceful stream of water pounding down beside me.  If only I had a waterproof camera – it was one of the most spectacular sights I’ve seen.  There are few things more humbling than swimming around waterfalls.  There were two people heading out when we arrived so we had the falls to ourselves for a while.  Then, gradually, a few more people tentatively made their way down to the falls.

Standing at the base of the falls

Standing at the base of the falls

After soaking it all in for a while, we decided it was time for the next adventure.  The ropes tied between the trees were essential to scaling the mountain on the way back up.  It was also helpful to just look where your feet were stepping, one step at a time, rather than look up. . . or down! When we got back to the road we paused for a moment of gratitude, thanked Paul for his guidance, and walked back to our car.

"Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale. . . "

"Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale. . . "

Ali didn’t tell me where we were headed next.  Actually, she did rattle off the names of 4 different beaches, but none of them were familiar to me.  “Ok – it’ll be a surprise,” Ali said as she navigated us back to the main road.  We drove for a while longer, made another sharp left turn (again unmarked) and ended up on a residential street.  We parked the car and walked along the road until we could access the beach.  And there we were – at the site where the first couple episodes of Gilligan’s Island were filmed (November 19 -22, 1963), Moloaa Bay. The water was pristine and the sand was fine and soft.  We swam around in the crystal blue bay for a while and napped on the sand.

Not so sure being stuck on Gilligan's Island was a bad thing!

Not so sure being stuck on Gilligan's Island was a bad thing!

I honestly don’t remember what happened after that.  I think we may have headed home, showered, and then went to a friend’s house for dinner.  I do know that I slept exceptionally well on Saturday night.

Sunday: By this point, we had adventured, camped outside on the beach, swam in waterfalls, and enjoyed some good meals.  Now was the time to do what I can only do in a place like Kauai – truly slow down.  Stop even. We spent most of Sunday lying around the house, napping, catching up.  We eventually made it out to a beach and went swimming at sunset and then picked up some dinner and went back to sleep.  I got more sleep Sunday than I do cumulatively during a typical week.

Monday: Our day of rest behind us, it was time for more waterfalls.  First, we walked to breakfast at a little local bakery.  As usual, we sat outside, leisurely sipped our coffee, and considered our options for the day.  We initially planned on snorkeling, but we checked the surf report and the water was going to be too rough for snorkeling.  In fact, it was advised that people stay out of the water on the North Shore altogether on Monday (that of course doesn’t apply to the world class surfers who live for days like this).

So instead of snorkeling, we went on another waterfall adventure.  Ali explained that there was a bit of a hike involved, but it would be worth it.  I actually enjoy hiking so that was part of the fun for me, although I don’t typically hike in that kind of heat and humidity.  I’d imagine the hike is a couple miles (1-3) each way.

First, you walk down this path for a long time:

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Then, you climb over this gate:

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Next, you walk along this winding and hilly path for a considerable time:

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The scenery on this path changes drastically as you make your way along.  At times it feels like you’re in the rain forest, other times it feels like you’re in the jungle, and due to the heat, sometimes it feels like you’re in the desert.

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Eventually you get here and you see the first sign of water moving down a stream to your left:

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And then, you arrive here:

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Next thing you know, you’re here:

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The waterfall swimming was amazing and once again, we were the only people there.  One thing to remember about these falls is: after you get out, you still have the long, hilly, hot walk back.  Even so (or especially so), it’s worth it!

The Lighthouse

The Lighthouse

Once we made our way back from the waterfalls, we stopped by the lighthouse and wild bird sanctuary. The view – as I became accustomed to – was spectacular.

We wound down the evening and brought dinner home.  I threw my wet clothes in the dryer and began packing.

Tuesday: At 4:30am the alarm went off. If you have to leave Kauai, I recommend you do it while it’s still dark out.

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The Journey Continues At Home

It’s always an adjustment when the back-to-back travel ends and I find myself at home for an extended period of time (longer than a week or two). Putting the suitcase away and unpacking the toiletries is the final concession that I’m staying put for a while. . . NOW what do I do?

I try to get back into my daily routines: wake up early, go for a run on the beach, go to the office, have dinner with friends, go to a concert. It takes a while to settle in and I find myself missing the airplanes, taxis, new restaurants, different experiences, and meeting new people. It takes a lot of will-power to not just jump on the next plane to Kauai, San Francisco, or Vegas, or hop in the car and drive to San Diego (although any number of those things may happen within the next week). Thankfully, there’s plenty of adventure at home!

Mile 6

Mile 6

I’ve been home for 3 weeks now – quite possibly the longest stretch I’ve gone without traveling this year – and have had several fun journeys. It’s been a nice reminder that I can travel in my own city. Earlier this month I ran the Pasadena Half Marathon with my good friend, Jen. I haven’t been to Pasadena in years and forgot how simply going to another community can feel like a vacation! First, we ran through the beautiful tree-lined streets, passing by some magnificent homes. The colors of the leaves had changed and there was evidence that we actually do experience “seasons” in LA. It felt like we were in New England, only warmer.

The second third of the course was spent on dirt trails in the hills. You can truly get lost in the mountains and forget that you’re anywhere near a city. There was one hill that was long and steep. Most people walked it (myself included) and many were out of breath at the top. I couldn’t help but laugh when we arrived at the top of the hill to find a sign marked “Devil’s Gate.” We hit the pavement again for the last portion of the course. Crossing the finish line was fantastic because it signaled the end of the run… and the beginning of breakfast!

The Getty - sometimes it's too nice to inside!

The Getty - sometimes it's too nice to inside!

The following weekend my friends Juston and Laura came to town. We spent a beautiful Sunday afternoon up at The Getty. Juston and Laura are both artists so I felt inclined to warn them that while we have every intention of going inside the museum, many visits to The Getty are spent entirely outdoors. They chuckled (perhaps in disbelief) and said, “well, of course we’ll go inside!” But we began our adventure outdoors, walking the gardens, admiring the way the buildings “framed” LA perfectly, looking at the ocean on one side of the property and snow on the mountains on the other side. We ate brunch and then attempted to go inside the museum. We were in one building for a few minutes, then another, and then Laura said,”you know, it’s so nice outside, I feel like we should be soaking up the sun!” And so, as most days at The Getty are spent, we ventured back outside, sat on the grass, watched kids roll down hills and scale walls, while we caught up and took in the view.

Sunbathing pelican in Newport

Sunbathing pelican in Newport

And finally, last weekend my friend Heather and I planned a mini-vacation. She lives in San Diego so we met in Newport Beach, half-way between Santa Monica beach and Mission Beach. We spent the day at the beach, bouncing between restaurants, bars, coffee shops, and bakeries, with outdoor seating. It was so warm and beautiful that we had to keep reminding each other that it was December 28th.

Ben Harper at The Mint, Hollywood

Ben Harper at The Mint, Hollywood

In between all of that was a bunch of live music. From Ben Harper at The Mint to Ozomatli at House of Blues, to Hotel Cafe family reunions and holiday shows. . . it’s been a non-stop adventure since I returned home!

Counting Shooting Stars: Big Sur

Sunset in Big Sur, November 29 2008

Sunset in Big Sur, November 29 2008

For all the good times, defining moments, and magical experiences I’ve had (and there have been many), it’s always a blessing when another comes along.  I just returned from a long weekend in Big Sur.  It’s been tradition during the past 3 Thanksgiving weekends to drive up the coast and attend my friend Shiva’s yoga retreat. It’s something I look forward to every year. But this year, having literally just returned from back-to-back trips to the Arctic and Turks & Caicos, I actually considered not going. I wasn’t sure I felt up to more travel and was enjoying my time at home.  I also felt completely relaxed and re-treated (or so I thought).

Thankfully I listened to the other voice in my head – the one that reminded me how important it is to disconnect from the phone, computer, and daily routines, and to reconnect with myself, friends, and a more natural rhythm of life.
 
I drove up the coast Friday morning and was immediately at ease, with the ocean by my side the entire way. I turned my phone off before I officially went off the grid and dropped completely into the experience.  Life still happens without a phone – in fact, it happens without interruption. I took my time driving up the coast and found a little beach town to get lost in along the way. 
 
Saloon in my newly discovered beach town

Saloon in my newly discovered beach town

The town had one main street, only 5 blocks long. There was an old saloon and a restaurant that looked like a pirate ship.  I ate lunch at the pirate ship restaurant, and sat on the upstairs deck outside, overlooking the ocean.  The town was simple and charming – if I ever dissapear, it’s possible I took up residence there.

 
 
 
 
 
Elephant seals sunning themselves

Elephant seals sunning themselves

As I continued driving I noticed an Elephant Seal viewing area on the side of Highway 1. In the dozen times I’ve made this drive previously, I never noticed this turn-off.  It’s easier to pay attention without the cell phone! I pulled over and checked out the elephant seals.  They can weigh up to 2 tons and are NOT pretty animals.  It was odd to see all these huge beasts lying on the beach – they looked almost prehistoric.  There was one little, white seal who was loving the sun and appeared to be smiling as she scratched her head with her fin and then settled back to sleep – she was pretty cute.

I arrived at the retreat center around 3:30 and went straight into the hot springs.  The hot springs overlook the ocean and provide instant relaxation.  As it turned out, all my friends decided to take a leisurely drive up to Big Sur, so we all arrived “late” (between 4 and 6pm instead of 2pm).  With no phones, we just trusted we’d find each other there whenever we all arrived.  And of course we did. We connected at dinner and then went dancing in the dance dome.  After we finished dancing we each picked up an instrument (my friends provided the live music) and started jamming.  We were just playing, free-form and having so much fun.  I looked around at this group of 10 particular friends I hadn’t seen in a few months and just smiled. It felt like home to be reunited.  Also, while this was billed as a “yoga retreat,” this group of friends inherently makes the dynamic more of a party.  Y’know when you have a friend who you have too much fun with (not that there is such a thing); that person whose eyes light up when he looks at you and says “uh oh, trouble is here!”?  Well, there were 10 of us who feel that way about each other so needless to say we  had a lot of fun! After dancing and our impropmtu jam session, we went back down to the hot springs for a couple hours (they’re open 24-hours).  We caught up and relaxed some more. 
Saturday was probably my favorite day of the retreat (although they were all fantastic) and one of the most fulfilling nights of my life so far.  We had a wonderful breakfast, practiced yoga, ate lunch, and then went down to the beach.  There was a 4-6pm yoga workshop and session but none of us ended up going.  Some went surfing, some went to the tubs, some of us just sat on the deck and watched the sunset.  We reconnected at dinner and had some wine.  At 7:00pm I headed down to the massage room for one of their signature massages, with the sound of the ocean waves crashing all around me.  When I emerged from the massage room our yoga group was in an enclosed room with hot tubs, candles lit, singing.  The acoustics were phenomenal.  Now comes the really good part…
Counting Shooting Stars

Counting Shooting Stars

Ambika, Joey, Kishan, Janet, Kristin, and I gathered in another room on the property, sat in a circle and caught up for a little while.  We laughed and plotted our night’s activities – sleep was NOT on the agenda.  After everybody else went to bed, the 6 of us returned to the hot tubs, reunited with our other friend Matt, and soaked for a couple hours. At about 2am Ambika and I went upstairs to the deck, pushed a couple massage tables together, laid down, and looked up at the stars. There were no city lights obstructing the view and so many stars that it almost looked like there was more light than darkness.  And then we saw a shooting star. “Let’s count shooting stars!” I said and Ambika agreed. 

We turned it into a game, keeping track of how many shooting stars each of us saw.  After about an hour (and 7 shooting stars later), our friends Janet and Matt came up and joined us.  “What are you guys doing?” Matt asked. 
“We’re counting shooting stars,” I replied.
“We’re not just counting them,” Ambika elaborated.  “It’s a game – we’re keeping track of how many each of us has seen.”
“Ambika has 4 and I have 3,” I said.
“There’s one!!!!” exclaimed Matt.
Soon, the score was: Ambika 7, Colette 6, Janet 2, Matt 1.  Then our friend Joey joined us, which required adding one more massage table to our star gazing station.  We explained the game to him and before long Joey had seen 2 shooting stars himself.  Finally, we heard “awwww, wow…. what’s going on here?” as Kishan approached.  He took a picture of us (which I’ll post when he sends it to me). 
At one point security came by and shined a flashlight on us.  “What are you doing?” the guard asked.
 
“We’re counting shooting stars,” I replied.  Not the answer he was expecting…
“Oh wow! That’s really cool!” he said.  “Ok, you can stay here and stargaze.  Just don’t fall asleep here.”
The final score was Colette 11, Ambika 10, Janet 5, Joey 2, Matt 1.  This is one of my most favorite moments in life so far (and not because I won “the game”).  To be able to lie down, look at the sky and count shooting stars is so simple, beautiful, fun, and fulfilling.  Everybody should do it! And if you can do it with a handful of close friends, it’s even better.  It felt familiar as if I’d done it once before when I was a little girl (but I don’t think I have done it before).  It made us all feel like kids.  At one point Matt said, “This is a dream, but it isn’t a dream.  This is amazing!” It felt like we were characters in a fairy tale.  Many of our adventures involve travel to foreign countries, all-night parties, long hikes, or some involved plan.  It was a striking contrast to have so much fun and hear so many giggles engaging in the simplicity of counting shooting stars. 
“We have to come here every year. This is our thing. We created ‘a thing’ and it’s important that we always come back here together and share moments like these,” Joey said.
And we will. 
Eventually, we made our way back to our rooms – the sun was about to rise and put a damper on our shooting star game and we had about 4 hours to sleep before our morning yoga practice.
Hot springs tub overlooking the ocean

Hot springs tub overlooking the ocean

Sunday was another beautiful day.  It felt like summer, clear skies and warm – rare for late-November in Big Sur.  We had brunch after yoga and then made our way back to the tubs.  Our Sunday departure tradition for the past 3 years has been to spend the day in the tubs and leave in the evening after most of the holiday traffic has died down.  At one point Daphne and I were discussing options during Labor Day weekend 2009 – Burning Man, Spirit Bear trip in British Columbia, or a trip to the South of France.  “Well, it’s a win-win-win decision,” I said.

“And look where we’re sitting now,” Daphne reminded me as we soaked in hot tubs, suspended above the ocean.   
Message written in stone

Message written in stone

Another great part about the weekend was this place on the property where somebody left messages written with rocks.  The messages were updated several times daily.  They were messages written in stone, yet not “written in stone.” And if you didn’t pay attention, you may miss a subtle change.  It said “Like fixes like” for a few hours one day and then it switched to “Life fixes life.”  The night we did our stargazing, the sign said “Starlight” with an arrow pointing over the ocean.  You could never take for granted that the sign would be the same and you never knew when it would be updated.  There was no “schedule” that sign changed and it may have changed more frequently than we even observed. Nobody saw the sign being updated (even in broad daylight), it just seemed to “happen” and the message was always perfect.  As I was leaving Sunday, the sign changed again.  “I’ll miss you”

Sunset from the deck in front of our room

Sunset from the deck in front of our room

View of sunset from our room

View of sunset from our room

‘Ologists

View from my room on the river

View from my room on the river

 

I arrived in Missoula, Montana last night.  Monica, who works at the Bear foundation, picked me up at the airport and introduced me to Montana by taking me to the local dive bar.  I met a bunch of great people at the bar – some of the nicest people in the world (and not just because they had a few drinks in them).  

When people heard I was going on this trip they asked, “what kind of ‘Ologist are you?!” expecting a response such as, “Biologist,” “ecologist,” or “geologist.” Instead, I responded, “I’m a fun-ologist!” I’m here to live, have fun, and meet people (and polar bears). To share these experiences and hopefully inspire others to embark on their own adventures, raise consciousness, affect positive change. 

In the time that’s passed since the dream, I’ve changed. Not who I am of course, but how I live. It wasn’t a fully conscious decision or something born out of guilt or obligation.  It just started happening.  I was taking shorter showers, recycling everything that could be recycled, trading in plastic bottles for Nalgene, and replacing household cleaners with non-toxic, biodegradable alternatives. 

It’s not that I had ignored all the information until now.  I made several shifts to help the environment prior to the polar bear dream: walking to work every day, replacing light bulbs, using all appliances in energy-efficient mode, never using the air conditioning or heat (living in Santa Monica makes that one easy), maintaining air pressure in my tires for the rare occasions I actually drove somewhere, recycling the obvious things (but not everything).  I had seen An Inconvenient Truth, March of The Penguins, An Arctic Tale, the news…

But after the dream came a true awakening. I don’t need to think about it anymore.  It’s no longer a decision I’m making.  It’s just the way I live.  It feels effortless. As I learn about additional alternatives, I adopt them.  Seventh Generation products are everywhere in my home (shouldn’t ALL toilet paper be made from recycled paper?!? Do we really need to be using new trees to wipe our a$$?!). 

Different thoughts cross my mind now:

  • What if every hotel, gym, office building, and restaurant used toilet paper made from recycled materials? What if every household did the same?
  • I’ve showered, shampooed, and conditioned using a 5-gallon Sun Shower when camping
    •  low-flow shower heads (which most of us have now) still flow approximately 2.5 gallons of water per minute.
    • My 5-gallon sun showers have lasted as long as 5 – 10 minutes and was all that was needed to be thoroughly showered.
  • Why is everything over-packaged? A small gift ordered online arrives in a huge box, sometimes only to be found lying in yet a smaller box, among Styrofoam or plastic “filler.”

I now turn off the water while shampooing, conditioning, and shaving.  I recycle everything that can be recycled. All “paper” products are made of recycled or alternative materials. I see things differently – I now prefer those air-blowing hand dryers in public restrooms (when I see paper towels, I see trees). While at Club Med 2 weeks ago I noticed they were using styrofoam cups in the cafeteria.  There were nearly 600 people there that week – if only a third of them took a cup, during the 3 meals per day, that’s 600 cups per day, times 7 days… there has to be a better way. But sitting in Turks & Caicos, surrounded by water (although the ocean is receding there by 10″ per year as well), it can be easier for people to not see the impact our daily choices (like styrofoam cups) have on the environment.  It’s likely also more difficult to find responsible alternatives on an island. But we should try…

The shift was natural.  It doesn’t feel extreme. And I know there are more changes I can make that would have a positive impact on the environment. It’s all connected – the dream, the polar bears, the way I live.  What I do here, today, affects the polar bears I’m going to see in a few days. 

 

I Will Keep You In My Heart

I initially intended to write about the remainder of my Turks & Caicos trip and share fun stories and pictures.  But the journey hasn’t quite come to a close yet.  As it turns out, I met a really kind man at the Providenciales airport.  So I’ll begin with his story.  The other stories will follow shortly.

His name is Paulcius Verceus and he’s from Haiti.  He was sitting with a friend, speaking about the upcoming Presidential election in the U.S.  I looked over and smiled at him.  He glanced down at the passport in my hand, smiled, and said, “Please, when you go home, vote for Obama!”

“This is bigger than America.  The WORLD needs change,” he pleaded.  I assured him I am voting for Obama.  He continued, “With Obama there is hope.  He may even help fix some things in Haiti.  If McCain wins, we have no chance.  The economy will get worse. People won’t be able to afford to travel anymore.  I won’t be able to travel from Turks & Caicos to see my family in Haiti. We also need people to come to our country.  Tourism is one of the few sources of money in Haiti and if people stop coming, we’ll have less money than we do now.”  

He continued, reciting information he’d heard on the news, concerns about voter fraud, concerns about Ohio.  He is as informed about the issues and current events as most Americans I know and this election is just as, if not more, important to him as it is to us.

Paulcius cannot find work in Haiti, so he obtained a visa to work in Turks & Caicos.  “I do construction. It’s hard for me to save money because I send most of my money back to Haiti to help my family.  I’m paying for the children in our family to go to school and supporting my mom and dad who can’t find jobs either.”

While his life may sound bleak, Paulcius is constantly smiling. Ideally, he’d like to live in Haiti where he can be with his family and have more personal freedoms than he does in Turks & Caicos.  But as long as he’s able to find work in Turks & Caicos, he’ll stay there.  “When your family calls and says they’re hungry and beg you to send money, what can you do? When you feel it in your heart, there’s only one thing you can do.  And I thank God that I can do it. I am the one who’s blessed.”

He found a song on his MP3-playing watch and let me listen until he saw it was time for me to board my plane.  “Maybe one day if I don’t die and you don’t die, we’ll see each other again.  We don’t know what the future holds. When you’re a child you can think and dream and have hopes for the future.  But when you grow up you learn that only the future knows the future.”

“Well, I hope we do see each other in the future,” I replied as I stood up to gather my bags and get on the plane bound for Miami.

“I will keep you in my heart” he said with a big smile, hand on his heart.