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Kauai – June 30, 2007

Prolog

Last fall our friends Heath and Mini became engaged after dating for 6 years. When they invited us to their wedding in Hawaii, we were thrilled to accept. I made our reservations through Pleasant Hawaiian Holidays, booking our flight, hotel, and rental car for a week on Kauai. We’d been looking forward to our visit ever since.

Saturday, 30 June 2007

Traveling from San Jose to Lihue

Our flight, United 41, was scheduled to leave San Francisco Airport (SFO) at 9:30. I had arranged for South and East Bay Airport Shuttle to pick us up around 6:45am to give us plenty of time. I woke up at 4:30, half an hour before the alarm, but lay with my eyes closed until it started blaring. The morning preparations were routine, and we were ready for the shuttle by 6:30.

It arrived at 6:50, and we were on our way. Usually, the shuttle has multiple stops to pick up passengers after we board, but this time, there was only one passenger on board, and we were the driver’s last stop. On the way to SFO, we talked with the other passenger. Sadly, he was on his way to his father’s funeral. We chatted about parents, good lives, and families during the entire 50-minute trip.

The SFO departures area was a zoo. Vehicles crowded the drop-off area and people and their luggage crowded the sidewalks. Inside the terminal there was almost no room to move. The night before our departure, we had checked in online. We had also requested an upgrade to first class using frequent flier miles. Once we were at SFO, all we needed to do was go to a special area where we could check our bags. The line for that counter was long, but moved quickly. Within 15 minutes a clerk was tagging our bags and we were soon on our way to the security checkpoint.

The security coral was overflowing, but we finally got into the cordoned maze and through the security screen. I thought the TSA agents would want to hand-inspect my camera gear, but we made it through without any delays. At 8:40, we were seated at our gate waiting to see if we would get the first class upgrade we had requested. It seemed unlikely, as busy as the airport was.

As we waited, a little boy—about 5 years old—sat with his mother across from us. After a few minutes, his father showed up carrying three food boxes. As they ate their pancakes, French toast, and bacon, Chris and I realized how long ago we had eaten breakfast. We would dig into our snacks as soon as we were on the plane.

Just after boarding began, the counter agent called my name on the PA system and asked me to come up. I thought “Maybe we got the upgrade after all.” I was half right. The counter agent said “We only have one first class seat. Would you still like to upgrade?” I thought furiously, knowing if I got it, it would be for Chris. After a couple of seconds, I decided to save the 15,000 miles and keep the seats we had. When I told Chris what had happened she couldn’t believe I hadn’t gotten her the upgrade. When I finally told her how many miles it would have cost, she agreed I’d done the right thing. Her agreement didn’t keep her from making comments like “I could be sitting there drinking orange juice” as we trudged through first class to our seats.

It turned out we had pretty good seats on our 767: side-by-side window and aisle seats in front of the middle galley section. There would be no one behind us, the seats reclined, and we were in the “Economy Plus” section with plenty of leg room.

We waited for the plane to fill and dug out our baggy of sliced apples to take some of the edge off our pancake-induced hunger. A boy about 10 years old stopped next to our row and said “This is a long plane.” His younger brother didn’t quite hear him and said “We’re on the wrong plane?!” The panic was short lived, though, and they continued farther back to their seats.

After a long wait for takeoff, we were airborne. The flight was uneventful. Chris and I read, napped, and caught snippets of the movie (The Astronaut Farmer). We landed only 6 minutes late in Lihue.

The baggage carousel was extremely crowded, and it took about 20 minutes for our bags to come out. We had a large suitcase for my stuff (including camera tripod and electronics), a small case for our shoes, a roll-aboard for Chris, and a large diving-gear bag packed with stuff that Mini and Heath needed us to bring for them. We piled it all up along with our carry-on bags and rolled over to the Dollar counter. The agent told us to wait for the shuttle around back. The shuttle took us to the rental office where I stood in line for about 30 minutes while Chris stayed outside with the bags. While she waited, a man nearby constantly whistled mindless tunes, making her wait less enjoyable than it might otherwise have been.

We finally drove away in our red Dodge Caliber. We would be staying at the Aloha Beach Resort hotel in Kapa’a. I had programmed its location into our navigational GPS (a Garmin c330) before we left home. It got us right to the door with no problem. It was only 2:00 and normal check-in time is 3:00. However, the desk clerk found that our room was ready, so we checked in and lugged our collection of bags to our room.

Our Vacation Starts

After unpacking, slathering up with sunscreen and putting on our swim suits, we headed to the poolside bar. Chris got a margarita and I got a Kona Pale Ale. We took our drinks to the pool and found a couple of chaise lounges. All the available lounges had straps missing right where you sit, so we had to sit up a little straighter than normal to keep from falling through. We sipped our drinks and read. When we got hot, we took a dip in the pool, then sunned for a little while longer. At 5:00 we headed back to the room.

While we were lounging by the pool, we kept hearing sirens on the nearby highway. As we packed up our books and towels, we heard some people nearby talking about a fire. We asked where it was, and one of them said “Across the road!” She wasn’t kidding—a large grass fire was burning in a field right across the road and to the south. By the time we left the pool, two helicopters were dipping water from the Wailua River and dropping it onto the flames.

We showered and dressed for a casual dinner. We didn’t have a restaurant in mind, so we decided just to drive up the highway and see what looked appealing. On our way out to the car, we decided to take some pictures of the fire-fighting efforts across the highway. We felt there was no danger of the fire jumping the road because the offshore breeze was pushing the smoke and flames away from us. After we had enough gawking, we got in the car and drove north.

We ended up at a roadside restaurant called the Lemongrass Bar and Grill. It looked pretty touristy, and the prices didn’t change that impression. However, the service was friendly and fast, and the food was very good. I ordered the sautéed catch of the day, which was Ahi. It was perfectly cooked: light gray-brown on the outside, red on the inside. It was surprisingly flavorful and well seasoned. Chris ordered the seared scallops, which were also perfectly cooked and seasoned. We sipped a New Zealand sauvignon blanc along with dinner and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

On the way back to the hotel we stopped by a grocery store and picked up a bottle of Clos Du Bois chardonnay for the room. The fire was still going when we got back to the hotel. I went to the room and grabbed the video camera. We took pictures of the fire for a while and then just watched the action. As we stood at the entrance to the hotel talking to another bystander, we heard a tire squeal and a thud. We looked over to see that a pickup truck had turned in front of oncoming traffic and had been struck on the right rear side by a car that had right of way. The car that hit the truck looked like a rental. What a sucky thing to happen on vacation. I would think of that moment every time I turned into or out of our hotel for the rest of the week.

Thirty seconds after the accident a firefighter came to the edge of the road and asked if everyone was OK. They were. Almost immediately, there were two police cars on the scene. They must have been very close by due to the fire and responded amazingly quickly.

Back at the room we poured ourselves some small glasses of wine and went outside to the poolside bar. The bar was closed, but we were able to sit at a table and watch the surf crashing at Lydgate Park beach. When our wine glasses were empty, we headed back to the room. Helicopters were still flying between the river and the fire. We prepared for bed and read for a little while, but both found it hard to keep our eyes open. I set my alarm for 5:00am so we would be able to get out to see the sunrise. By 9:00, we were both asleep.


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