Kauai has the magic power to turn any couple
into newlyweds. See how the island changed this noted author's life
Afterward, we called it our "honeymoon." That would make our "wedding" the Rolling Stones concert we went to the night before. It did have all the earmarks of a honeymoon, though ― it was in Kauai in the spring, the beaches were perfect, every bush and tree seemed to be blooming, and the people we met kept smiling at us.
It didn't start out as a honeymoon ― it started out as a way to use up a week in someone's vacation home, a week I had bought at a charity auction. And the Rolling Stones concert didn't start out as the wedding ― it started out as a slightly awkward double date with my partner's ex-girlfriend and her new lover. The key moment there must have been when he realized that the former girlfriend had been only 2 years old in the heyday of the Rolling Stones. Or maybe it was when she got a little hard to handle on the way home. At any rate, somehow he ended up really forsaking all others, and there we were, on the plane, necking in front of the flight attendant, who said, "On your honeymoon?" and he said, "Yes."
Our house was on the south coast, in a community not far from the Poipu Bay Golf Course, about 14 miles from the airport in Lihu'e, but Kauai is small enough so that we were not confined to the local beaches, which are pleasant but unexciting. Eight miles north of the airport is the town (and, more important, the beach) of Kapa'a, a long, gently curving stretch of wide sand on the eastern side of the island, which means it is protected from the prevailing winds. The water, at the end of April, was warm and the rollers smooth and rhythmic. If we saw another person on the beach, I don't remember him. There were certainly no crowds of any kind.
We followed the highway north to Princeville. If the southern end of the island is sunny and a little barren, the Los Angeles County of Kauai, and the eastern side of the island is calm and temperate, the Monterey County, the northern end is lush and exotic, full of waterfalls and orchids and caves and distant mountainous views, not like anywhere else I've ever been. While we were there, we visited an old acquaintance of my partner's, who lived in a beautiful house with a view of the Namolokama waterfall, and made his living growing flowers for the island's resort hotels. This was a life he had adopted after a fit of despair, which took place in the dead of winter somewhere in upstate New York. A mysterious voice whispered "Kauai" in his ear. Lucky him. And could this be us? We thought about making a whole new life, the way honeymooners do.
We decided to try out one of the resorts, and so we went to the Marriott, which is nestled into a corner of Nawiliwili Bay, an idyllic and protected spot on the southeast coast, in Lihu'e. We sneaked in in our sunglasses and made excellent use of the beach and the pool, especially as we were experimenting (the way honeymooners do) with a vow of silence. In theory, our silence was designed to make us feel as close as possible to one another and also at one with the universe.
In front of the hotel is a fragrant, palm-lined golden beach ― the exact sort of universe you would want to be at one with. When the waiters serving the beach and the pool approached us, we waved them off with a smile ― we had to be silent, after all. Fairly quickly, they stopped coming over. By 2 p.m., though, the morning bacon had worn off, and we were hungry, so we found a hamburger stand near the resort, where the cruise ships dock. We gestured for a menu, perused it, then gestured for a pad to write our order on.
By this time, the attendant was speaking to us in A VERY LOUD VOICE. "DID WE WANT ONIONS WITH THAT?" We wrote down, "Yes, and two Diet Cokes." He gestured for the pad. He wrote down, "Okay." When the order was ready, he held up the check so we could see it. I had overlooked the possibility that a vow of silence could be construed as something else. As the vow of silence wore on, I have to say, it came to seem more like giving each other the silent treatment. No jokes. No idle observations about how blue the sea was, and how many shorebirds were making their way along the water's edge. We realized our "marriage" was going to be more about talking and laughing than about spiritual disciplines.
That very night we did another thing that honeymooners do ― we talked about having children, except, since we are both way past our reproductive years, we did it in a dream I had. As I remember, I told him in the dream that I was pregnant, and he hightailed it out of the house as fast as he could go. The next morning I got a call from the manager of my broodmares ― one of the mares had foaled more or less while I was having the dream. We named that filly after our honeymoon: Kiss Me.
Along with L.A. County, Monterey County, and Paradise, there is No Man's Land, best seen from a helicopter. The rugged section of No Man's Land is the Napali Coast to the northwest, a series of steep, dry, dramatic declivities that run right down to the water. The unique section of No Man's Land is Mt. Wai'ale'ale, elevation 5,150 feet. The summit of Wai'ale'ale is a C-shaped cliff that drops into a canyon. The back of the C faces west, catching rain clouds as they cross the island. The result is 428 inches of rain per year and a spectacular waterfall, visible, once again, from your helicopter. There are those who, on their honeymoon, would love to trek into Kauai's rough red lands, but we weren't they.
Kauai, like a honeymoon, is self-contained ― northwest of the rest of the Hawaiian Islands, it looks on the map like the one that is about to get away. Most of the other islands in the Pacific lie to the southwest, so there is also that honeymoon sense of standing on the verge of the unknown. We were there a week; we've never gone back; we're still together. It was the last honeymoon we'll ever need.
Smiley's most recent novel, Ten Days in the Hills (Anchor, 2008; $15), is now available in paperback. For information on Kauai, visit kauaidiscovery.com or call 800/262-1400.