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Cruising on the Westside

The last deadline for this column met and necessary work accomplished, with family visiting, we take off on a blustery Eastside day for the Westside of the island. My son is at the wheel, my daughter-in-love up front, and me, off duty.

Approaching Lihue, there looms Haupu Mountain “wearing her papale,” or hat, formed of cloud — a sure weather predictor for the Puna District. (Is it no wonder that the heiau atop that turtle-shell mount was used by the weather-predicting kahuna of ancient times?)

Once through Puhi, our hopes for a sunny destination and beach day soar. At the Tree Tunnel junction, we continue west instead of turning south to Koloa and Poipu.

Things lighten up further past Omao and the Knudsen Gap, which regularly funnels wind and wet weather. Then Kaumualii Highway leads us fully into the Kona District, lit with full promise.

The burst of multi-colored bougainvillea blooming on the hillside entrance to Hanapepe Town inveigles us to veer right, view my favorite factory where Taro Ko (and sweet potato) chips get crisped to perfection in the kitchen’s giant wok.

We cruise through town, thinking to save further exploration this day for a sweet reprise — after the beach. Following back over the bridge crossing the lazy Hanapepe River, we take the left turn leading to Salt Pond Beach Park.

A perfect parking place (ppp) awaits us, even on what seems an ultra-busy Saturday. The ppp is followed by a perfect settle-on-sand (p-sos) spot, complete with shade cast by a coconut tree. Past the salt ponds, we notice a goodly number of vehicles parked toward Burns Air Field. I ponder this while walking toward the keiki pond once the beach chairs and picnic are settled.

The question soon answers itself: there, beyond sparkling blue Salt Pond, come several canoes halfway to horizon from our viewpoint. Instead of continuing heading for Na Pali, they make a swift turn and head directly into the swift winds toward the pond. Aha! Canoe races.

The thought gels as we remember the Prince Kuhio celebration is in progress on Kauai’s South Shore. We watched the diamond splashes of water tossed by the beating paddles and cheer on the first canoe team to land.

Family and friends surge forward to greet, to hug and honi and present lei. Meanwhile, more canoes are hoving into sight, turning, their crews putting out maximum energy to paddle in against the wind. Such a spectacle! We wished to thank the gods (Aloha ke akua) for the opportunity to witness such energy and color, out of the blue, so to speak.

We make it a point to tell the paddlers as they come by in an informal processional to enjoy their well-deserved meal and party set up in the pavilion.

The dancing is going full-swing as we finally packed our beach gear and leave, heading back for Hanapepe Town. Sadly, we arrive just behind closing schedule to sample the fresh fruit popsicles dispensed near the famous swinging bridge in town because we lingered too long watching the painting of pottery and shopping for a Kauai-made gift nearby.

The bridge sways and creaks as expected; some of its weathered boards seem to be getting close to “iffy,” and the cables looked a tad more rusty than I remember.

A young Neighbor Island visitor starts onto it, then backs off to watch, but a local family with younger kids and carrying their shopping bags crosses to their home on the mauka (toward the mountains) side without a moment’s hesitation.

Across the way stands the Storybook Theatre, hiding its green oasis of a peace garden planted as a memorial to the late Sen. Spark M. Matsunaga.

While checking Sen. Matsunaga’s biography in the Directory of the U.S. Senate and learning that he was born in Kukuiula, it strikes me that he is also listed as an author and poet.

It seems even more than fitting, then, that the April as National Poetry Day celebration on Kauai will be held again this year in “Sparky’s Garden” on April 24, 7-9 p.m., with a program of original poems presented by Kauai poets, and also an open mic segment, by sign-up.

“Tapestry” will be stitched with musical presentation and will take place during the Hanapepe Art Walk Friday night as a cameo event, donation only, hosted by Storybook Theatre director Mark Jeffers. See you there …

The place will be buzzing that evening, as it is on most Art Walk Friday nights. But this evening as we head back to Wailua, the sun has fallen far to the west over Niihau, sending an aura of golden dust into the big old mango trees as peace settles over the town late on a Saturday afternoon.

Soon, we must leave our window shopping at TalkStory Books, wondering about the restoration of the old theater, and leave off cruising the Hanapepe area.

Within 20 minutes we return through Puhi to more gray and bluster, heading home, where large puddles attest to the well-needed downpour we missed.

We know our leisurely day complete with unexpected pleasures was not a dream, feeling the pinch of light sunburn as we hose down our sandy gear and toes.

Cruising — a word I like to describe such a laid-back day, with a particular meaning that points to the act of “moving about an area leisurely in the hope of discovering something, leisure; taking abundant time; not hurried; a leisurely manner; a leisurely walk.” Aloha, and mahalo, Hanapepe. Until next time.

•••

Dawn Fraser Kawahara, author and poet, instructs on the topics of history and Hawaiian culture for visitors through Hawaii Pacific University’s “Road Scholar” program through Pacific Islands Institute. She is working to complete her second memoir, based on the Burma of pre- and post-World War II times, toward Burmese independence. She continues as principal/owner of TropicBird Press and TropicBird Weddings & Celebrations-Kauai under DAWN Enterprises.

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