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Kauai Through Local Eyes

Sometimes you learn the most about a destination because you let yourself be vulnerable and live enough in the moment to meet someone who can share a local perspective...

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There I was. Stretched out on the oversized towel that I had recently placed under a palm tree after a long and determined search for the most prime spot on the beach. With a piña colada in hand, I watched the sun descend behind the mountains, bursting into a flare of red, magenta, and orange, which contrasted starkly with the verdant, green landscape of the distant peaks. It was Kauai and it was perfect.

To everyone except for me.

Don’t get me wrong. Staying at The Grand Hyatt Kauai Resort and Spa in Poipu, with its immaculate 5-star rooms and infinity pools that paralleled the Pacific, was truly out of a dream. It just would have been nice, amongst all the honeymooners and couples, to have someone to share that dream with.

Olivia Balsinger, Tawkify Matchmaker and Editor of Sustainable Travel & Oh The People You Meet.

Olivia Balsinger, Tawkify Matchmaker and Editor of Sustainable Travel & Oh The People You Meet.

Tinder, my friends said. Tinder and you will meet someone who can adventure with you. You’ll feel less alone.

Why not give it a shot. But after a few brief message exchanges that ended with something like, “You want adventure? I’ll show you adventure baby ;),” I decided to politely decline and pursue the more traditional route of meeting someone without social media as an intermediary.

But alas, that route led to nowhere and I abandoned all hope of romance, save for the one that I continued with the beautiful island itself. I decided to practice the surfing techniques I had learned a day prior at The Kauai Marriott Resort on Kalapaki Beach. Though my instructor had been very thorough in explaining how to be patient with the wave, how you would feel when it was on the cusp of breaking, how to glide and feel natural, I, of course, immediately face-planted into the sand.

You know those movies where you feel like you’re on the verge of drowning and then wash up on land, looking like Sleeping Beauty, and that lifeguard you’ve been in love with since puberty brings you back to life? That’s not how I met Christian.

“It’s okay. Not everyone grew up riding on their dad’s shoulders as he caught waves after work,” he smirked at me.

And I knew from the moment I met him that he was it. My adventure buddy. My local guide. My muse for inspiration.

He drove a van that shared a strange resemblance with my mom’s soccer mobile back in the 1990’s. I’m pretty sure one fender-bender and the whole thing would shatter. The seat belts didn’t work, the blue paint was chipping, and the pungency of old tortillas was overwhelming. “But hey, it was only a hundred bucks and it fits my surfboard.” Naturally.

Where the van brought us is a different story. The beauty in Kauai lies in the undiscovered, in the rule implemented that a building cannot be taller than the tallest palm tree, and in the lack of artificial light from billboards to blind driver’s vision on the one road that circles the island.

First stop: our van took us to a nondescript parking lot adjacent to what appeared to just be woodland on Kauai’s North Shore. Christian told me to trust him as we snaked through bush and tropical foliage, following the trail. And then we made it.

Our presence was small in one of the most unusual geological formations I have ever witnessed, The Blue Room. This “room” is a wet cave with a blue light that shines through, creating an eerie, yet mystifying mood. We carefully waded into the water as the cave’s acoustics magnified the passing rainstorm outside. To say it was magical would be an understatement.

A next visit our van made was to the endearingly dive-y local favorite, Puka Dog. Picture a hotdog and crème-filled doughnut having a baby—this is, indeed, a puka dog. A Polish sausage (or veggie dog, if that’s more your taste) is stuffed inside a specially baked loaf of bread, along with traditional Hawaiian relishes and sauces. A visit will teach you another Hawaiian word to add to your vocabulary—“puka” means “hole” in the native language. Christian laughed as I took a bite and teared up from the lava garlic lemon secret sauce.

“I’m taking you out of your comfort zone, testing your tolerance for non-resort food,” Christian laughed. “Aren’t you glad you met me?”

Yes. Yes, I was.

Sure, he took me to stunning vistas to enjoy pineapple juice, to ragged green cliffs that transported us back to the Jurassic Era (and aptly, where Jurassic World was recently filmed) but Christian did more than that. He taught me to live in the moment. To forget about my looming Manhattan rent that I couldn’t really afford. To forget about my writing deadlines, my need for inspiration, my uncertainty about the future.

It was the last night in paradise. Christian and I were standing on the idyllic Mahaulepu Beach, a local favorite for its serenity and seclusion. As the damp sand squished between our toes, as the lull of the waves whispered a sweet melody, and his body heat was keeping me warm, I thought that I had finally found my happiness.

It was as if he could feel my brain releasing energy and churning. Christian softly “shh’ed” me. “Stop thinking, Olivia. Turn it off. And look up.”

I’m not one to read Nicholas Spark novels and think they are any more than fiction. Nor do I think we are all destined for that quintessential happy ending of a fairy tale. But in that moment, under this constellate spectacular dancing across a never-ending sky, I realized something important. That sometimes it’s not how fancy the soap is not in the resort you’re staying in nor how packed your itinerary is with activities.

Sometimes you learn the most about a destination because you let yourself be vulnerable and live enough in the moment to meet someone who can share a local perspective.

Now, next time you’re in Kauai I’m not advocating falling face first off a surfboard next to a cute local.

But I’m also not advocating against it.

Olivia Balsinger
The Carrie Bradshaw of Travel

Art: Watercolor by Oh So Tropical

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