Arrived in Lihue, Kaua’i from LAX around 10pm. Rented my car and drove through light rain down the two-lane roads splitting Wailua, Kapa’a and other small towns down the middle. Air smells like wet floppy plants and dirt. This is my first trip to the tropics, so I think it smells like a swamp. Like the North American almost-tropics of the Everglades and the Atchafalaya bayous. I crank the defrosters and turn the local contemporary reggae station up for an irie version of The Cars’ “Drive.” Tuning around to a hippie New Age broadcast where a spaced-out lady DJ talks about all the bad vibes on the mainland, and how Kaua’i has to radiate more positivity or something. Then she plays some trance music so it’s over to another reggae station.
Stop into a big VALU supermarket place to buy food. I bump my cart into the uncanny embodiment of Kaua’i cliché: native Hawaiian dudes straight out of the waves in board shorts, shirtless with sandy feet, buying beer. Mad-dogging the red-eyed haole tourist, me, as I embody another cliché, placing a sixer of the local microbrew into my cart. I throw in a 12-pack of Tecate just to show I’m down. Really though I’m a little jet-lagged and too tired to stay unnerved by some agro surfer guys. I also buy a half pound of poke from the deli. Raw chopped up tuna with all kinds of spices. Like nigiri salsa or something.
Drive for another 45 minutes. The roads get more narrow past Princeville. Rain comes and goes. One-lane bridges and the outlines of wind-whipped palms on the dark coastline. Pass by the Wainiha General Store, which is almost recognizable from the version that shows up in the movie Lilo & Stitch (an animated thing for children that is generally funny and strange). Except the non-Disney version sells these T-shirts with a drawing of a snarling boar’s face circled by the slogan HUNT PIG KAUA’I.
Turn on the Powerhouse Road that heads up the Wainiha Valley. Drive between jacked-up pickup trucks with anti-methamphetamine bumper stickers: Cook Rice Not Ice. Hunting dogs snooze under mailboxes, their driveways descending out of sight into the river valley. NO TRESPASSING.
The house I’ve rented is easy to find. The guy who owns it is a native; he built what is now a “vacation rental by owner” for his parents. Moved up the valley after the 1957 tsunami. I know this from his website, and he later tells me the same story standing in his front yard ’cause he lives right next door with his wife. The laminated info sheet on the kitchen counter also tells me she’s a quadriplegic, after some kind of mowing accident. This is always on my mind while I’m here. The land behind my house is a riotous orchard of guava trees. A friendly cow wanders around back there. Four dogs bound up into the garage as I get out of my car.
A couple large cockroaches scatter when I turn on the kitchen lights. I open up all the windows. Geckos burp and bark on the porch. “It’s called a lanai,” my friends Kathryn and Jason will both chastise me later in the trip. I open up a beer and eat the poke out of its Styrofoam-and-plastic-wrap deli container with a fork. Gingerly. Still slightly unsure of whether or not I’m doing it right. The fish is slick and raw. Again like cheap sushi, but hot ‘n’ spicy.
Out onto the lanai with another beer to open up the tripod, turn the camera on and see where I’m at with some long exposures. There’s a waxing moon, a few days from full. With a lot of clouds. I know there’s mountains, but I want to see them before the sunrise. That’s how these photos came about.
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