Snorkeling in a “kiddie-lagoon” in Kauai is no longer mild fun when someone asks if I’ve seen the barracuda. The enthusiastic, kind-hearted stranger who really, really wants me to share this barracuda moment with her insists that barracuda don’t really hurt people. However, she also tells me that another man at her hotel made the following comment just the other day: “but when they latch on, they won’t let go!” So, no, I’ve not seen the barracuda. I don’t want to. Instead, I’ve seen happy little sky blue fish with lemon-yellow outlined bodies following me. And I’ve followed them, just to be social. I’ve also seen “sergeant fish” with their translucent white shapes and vertical black stripes. I hope to never see a barracuda.
Nate and Alex, on the other hand, have seen the barracuda and they’re swimming around, trying to find it again, which absolutely astounds me. I guess someone has to survive long enough to take people to the hospital and that lucky someone will most likely be me, I suppose. I watch them plunge their masked faces back into the water, circle around, and shout,
“It’s only about three feet long! That’s like, nothing!”
Three feet long is just way too long. I’m only 5 foot 2 ½. This barracuda is more than half my size according to the anxiety fueled “generous proportion math” method I’ve applied to this very situation. But Nate tells me I should trust him. There’s nothing to fear. He spent a year in the Fiji Islands where he taught math and accounting in the Peace Corps. He knows his way around a reef or two, as well as how to just let venomous sea snakes glide on by. The “lagoon” in Lydgate Park in Kauai doesn’t have either of these things: reefs (for reef sharks) or sea snakes. There’s just one random barracuda floating around and I feel like we’re playing Russian roulette with it.
While Nate and Alex continue to snorkel and look for the barracuda, a man from Alabama has just found the barracuda, inches from where I am standing and his reaction is the one I would expect from normal people. He tells his kids, in a very alarming sounding voice, “That’s a barracuda! Swim! Swim!” The kids totally freak out and start swimming and I follow their lead. In mere seconds my portion of the “lagoon” erupts into a scene from Jaws. Pale arms are thrashing and flailing about. At one point, I lose my balance and fall rear first into the shallow water, but do I stop moving? No. I scoot on my bottom all the way to safety. Nate and Alex watch me, bemused. Nate swims back over to ask me if we should leave for the day. I decide I’m just fine in the shallow end and he and Alex can continue to take chances with the barracuda. After 45 minutes more, we’re done and blissfully unharmed.
“That’s pretty good,” Nate tells me as we leave. “You lasted 15 minutes—just like when we snorkeled on our honeymoon in St. John’s.”
Back then, Nate said I had turned snorkeling into a competitive sport. I was the last one out of the boat and the first one back in. I got into the water, looked around, saw scores of pretty fish, wondered about sharks, freaked out, and got back in the boat.
“I still got it,” I said. “Even after 20 years I’m the gal who will try anything once for 15 minutes, but those 15 minutes are the best 15 minutes ever.”
After all, on this trip to Hawaii, I didn’t sign up for the adrenalin-packed rush of teetering on narrow trails while hovering above steep canyons, zip-lining over coconut trees, surfing mountain-sized waves, or trying my hand at sailing for the first time. I signed up for the hammock-swaying—mai tai drinking—relaxing vacation. Still, I want to have some adventurous fun and I find it on the menu at an ocean view restaurant: Barracuda. It’s following me. I have no choice but to order it and eat it. The entire thing. Okay, it’s only 3 ounces and not an entire barracuda, but it’s the best 3 ounces of buttery, flaky fish I’ve ever tasted in my life. It’s good. Scary good.
Of course, we explore the island of Kauai, starting with farmers’ markets and working our way through look-out spots for the Wailua River Falls and the Waimea Canyons. We tour the Kahaleo Gardens and check out Hanalei as well, but one of the most daring things Nate and I experience in Kauai takes place in our hotel room and it all starts with a trip to Walmart.
Nate, in addition to being a pretty adventurous guy is also a thrifty accountant who manages even thriftier accounting employees who enjoy a visit or two to Hawaii. One of his employees told him that, in Walmart, for about $14.23 it’s possible to pick up an entire bottle of Koloa Mai Tai Cocktail. It has the local Koloa rum and the mai tai mix in it together. This entire bottle costs the same as one mai tai in a restaurant in Kauai, so it’s quite a bargain, but Nate and I are a little skeptical.
“I don’t know. Should we really get this? It might not be very good,” I say.
“Nah! Let’s get it!” Nate says, grabbing the bottle by the neck and taking it directly to the checkout counter.
It’s not the best mai tai in the world, but it’s definitely pretty good. I highly recommend this little thrifty adventure.
Here are some other things Nate, Alex, and I recommend/learned if you are planning a trip to Hawaii:
1) A flight to Hawaii, in our experience, is never cheap. We thought it would be less expensive since we now live in the state of Washington, rather than Ohio, but the flights are still expensive. And long.
2) Website companies advertise great hotel rates, but those deals might not exist in real life. After Nate booked a dream room at a dream price using one of these websites, the hotel manager contacted him directly to tell him that the room did not exist at that price. If we wanted a room at that price, we could book one with a king sized bed and share it with our teenage son. Or, for just $600 more, we could have the room we originally wanted, with the ocean view. (We paid the extra amount. It was an incredible room.)
3) Interestingly enough, the hotel where we stayed, contracted with the above-mentioned website company to provide a “concierge” service. (I don’t want to mention the website company by name, but it rhymes with Flexpediabotrom.) In any case, Nate wanted to find out more about snorkeling at Lydgate Park, which is basically known as the “baby pool” of snorkeling and the exact experience we wanted. It’s practically free as well, except for renting the snorkel gear, which isn’t pricey at all. So, he approached the Flexpediabotrom concierge and asked about Lydgate. She did not offer any information about Lydgate. Instead, she pointed to a glossy flyer advertising a $200 per person boating/snorkeling tour. We could come back later if we wanted to book that tour—or any other expensive helicopter/kayaking/hiking experience. So, if you want to take really, really expensive and adventurous tours when you get to Hawaii, you’re in luck. There are lots of people who will happily help you with that.
4) We also opted out of attending a luau. Our hotel had a beautiful (and free) hula show that we enjoyed. There is a highly recommended luau in Hanalei, Kauai that is quite affordable, comparatively speaking. It takes place on Wednesday nights at Tahiti Nui. We were leaving on a Wednesday and arrived on a Thursday, so we missed it. Returning to experience this luau is one of the many reasons why I think we should come back.
5) Nate figures that we saved about $700 by stocking up on sandwich supplies, snacks, and breakfast items to eat in the room. (The room had a very tiny refrigerator, but we made it work.) Then, we could justify our splurges at dinner or lunch when we were out. (We just couldn’t resist trying new drinks in restaurants even though we had a $14 bottle of mai tai in the room.)
6) In Kauai, chickens are everywhere. They run loose and they are adorable and, if you’re not careful, you’ll have tons of pictures of chickens taking up loads of storage space on your phone. You will name them: Hotel Chicken, Road Chicken, Pretty Chicken, Fighting Chicken, Hungry Chicken, Beach Chicken, and Party Chicken. I even went so far as to rate places in Kauai based on how many chickens were there. “Gee, the Waimea Canyon area is really pretty,” I’d say. “Except, I just wish there were more chickens.” Any place that gets a 5-chicken rating is superb.
7) Swim with—and eat—something scary.
In Other News: A publication I submitted a while ago went “live” on April 1st. We were on vacation. That morning, when I got the email and the link, I told Nate and Alex about it. Alex, though, didn’t believe me:
Alex: Wait! Today’s April 1st. You’re kidding, right, Mom?
Me: No! This is not a joke! My short story really did go live today! Look!
So, here’s the proof. It’s here on this link below. It’s a short horror story in Coffin Bell Literary Journal. Cheers! Pretty Pink Flowers
Your Turn: How do you go about planning a vacation? Or, what’s your favorite vacation memory?