#Kaua’i: Duane’s Ono Char-Burger

Lucky day: Only one customer in front of us at the Ono Char!
Lucky day for us: Only one customer in front of us at the Ono Char!

This small hamburger shack, located in Anahola on the eastside of Kaua’i, has been an institution for both locals and tourists alike for more than a quarter of a century. Locals stop by all day to get their fix, and pretty much anyone who visits Kaua’i makes a stop here as well. The ‘Ono Char’ is the first place Meiling has to go whenever she comes home to Kaua’i, and it was our first Kaua’i dining experience on the island on our visit in 2012. Everyone who either lives on Kaua’i or has visited is always more than happy to tell you about their favorite Ono burger or make a recommendation.

The Ono Char menu
The Ono Char menu – my favorite is the teriyaki burger. It’s the most popular item on their menu.
An "Old Fashioned," with cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion and fresh sprouts. All burgers are served cut in half, with each half individually wrapped
An “Old Fashioned,” with cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion and fresh sprouts. All burgers are served cut in half, with each half individually wrapped

Duane’s Ono Char-Burger opened in 1975 (Ono means ‘delicious’ in Hawaiian), and has been run by family ever since. They serve fourteen different types of burgers, as well as other items, like sandwiches, fish and chips or chicken strips. Burgers start at $5.15 and go as high as $8.00 for one of ‘Duane’s Specials,’ and bacon can be added to any burger for $1.50. Their milkshakes are delicious (marionberry is reputed to be the best), but I love the ‘Aloha Special,’ a smoothie made with fresh papaya, mango, banana and pineapple juice. I tried the fish and chips (their fries are amazing!) on our last visit and they were very tasty – and hot! Several locals had also recommended I try the teriyaki mayonnaise with my fries – so good!

Fish & chips - very tasty!
Fish & chips – very tasty! The fries at Ono Char are outstanding
An "Aloha Special"
An “Aloha Special”

Making a good burger takes time, and appearances aside the Ono Char is not a fast food joint. Each order is cooked individually, in order. That means that you have to wait for the orders ahead of you to be done before they’ll even start on yours, so be prepared to wait. I’ve heard of people having to wait 30 minutes, but we’ve personally never had to wait that long – 10 minutes is about our average. If you don’t want to wait, or have a large order, you can call ahead and they will have it ready to go for you. The wait is worth it in my opinion though because when you finally get your burgers they are hot, and the lettuce, onions and tomatoes are still fresh and crispy. The beef patties used in the burgers are locally prepared, and seasoned with a special blend of Hawaiian salt made just for Ono Char.

Shaded, outdoor seating
Shaded outdoor seating

All seating is outdoors, in a nice shaded area. Besides other diners you will most likely share the space with a few chickens and roosters who hope you will accidentally drop something for them. Just like the Ono Char, the chickens are a Kaua’i institution and aren’t going anywhere, so we just deal with them.

Duane’s Ono Char-Burger is located in Anahola, right next to the Anahola post office and a small Whaler’s grocery store. Heading north on the Kuhio highway from Kapaa it will be on the right (makai) side of the highway. It’s open from 10:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. daily except for Sunday, when it opens at 11:00.


Hiking the Kuilau Trail

Another great eastside Kaua‘i trail is the Kuilau Trail, which starts on the right side of Kuamo‘o Road, about 100 feet (30 meters) before arriving at Kawi Stream.

papyrus (Cyperus papyrus), white ginger (Hedychium coronarium), blue ginger (Dichorisandra thyrsiflora)
Papyrus, White Ginger, Asian Sword Fern, and Blue Ginger, amongst other lush greenery

About seven miles up Kuamo’o Road from the Kuhio Highway, just before crossing Kawi Stream, there’s a small parking lot (currently closed for repair) on the left. Additional parking may be available across the stream, on the right. However, DO NOT CROSS if the stream is running high (knee deep or higher). Limited parking along Kuamo’o Road, headed back down to the east is also in vogue at this time, and there are three reasonably safe spots by the trailhead (two other nearby commonly used spots are not safe because they block the gate that is used by trucks, and earth moving equipment that also use the trail.

Kuilau Trailhead
Kuilau Trailhead

At the beginning of your hike, there’s a large clump of papyrus (Cyperus papyrus) that grows along the side of the road between the stream and the trailhead. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the trails have been wetter than usual this year, which takes a bit of the fun out of hiking, and the Kuilau is no exception. Sometimes the easiest path on the Kuilau Trail is right down the deep impressions made by tractor tires; in other spots, the path between the ruts is less soggy.

muddy ruts
Muddy Ruts

As I gained elevation on my last Kuilau hike, the sun began to dry out the ruts, and some of the smaller creatures began to move across the trail while attempting to remain unseen. Can you spot the tiny gecko in the picture below?

Green Anole
Fellow Hiker (Anolis carolinensis)

There is no potable water available along the trail, but edible fruit is abundant in season. On my first hike, someone told me the vine-y little briar with the white, five-petal blossom was wild raspberry, but on tasting I discovered it was something I had known on the mainland as thimbleberry (Rubus rosaefolius), also known as: West Indian raspberry (ola’a), roseleaf raspberry, or rose-leaf bramble.

Rubus Rosaefolia

Both guava (Psidium guajava), and its invasive cousin strawberry guava (Psidium cattleianum) are also prevalent at lower elevations along the trail, and while the low hanging fruit is almost always picked bare, the fragrance of the remnants is intoxicating.

Farther along, I saw a strange vine with what appeared to be potatoes growing from it. The air potato or bitter yam (Dioscorea bulbifera) is best left alone. For one thing, it’s invasive, but most importantly, while it may be pleasing to the eye in the wild, it is almost certainly poisonous.

invasive; poisonous
Bitter Yam or Air Potato

Other vines, although invasive, are not quite so dangerous. Monstera (Monstera deliciosa) is ubiquitous in Hawaii, and internet search results highlight its delicious aspects.

Monstera, M. deliciosa
Monstera appears on every trail I’ve hiked

These prehistoric giants thrive in heavy shade as well as on bright, open slopes all along the trail. Due to my limited botanical knowledge, I cannot tell whether the fern pictured below is the native Hapu’u Pulu (Cibotium splendens), or the invasive Australian Tree Fern (Cyathea Cooperi), but like a tinkling bell in a light breeze or trickling water, its presence is soothing and cooling.

tree fern
Tree Fern

Easily recognizable, common era ferns along the trail were much easier to identify because of their similarity to those I had known at Hoyt Arboretum in Portland, Oregon. The most common fern along the lower ridge, as well as many other trails, is the Asian Sword Fern (Nephrolepis brownii aka multiflora), often seen among smaller, lacy ferns that I cannot readily identify.

Asian Sword Fern
Asian Sword Fern

Around the half-mile mark the landscape grows more interesting. The shadowy “amphitheater” shown here is an eastern crater below Mt. Wai‘ale‘ale (‘rippling waters’) known as the Blue Hole.

crater to the east of Wai'ale'ale
Blue Hole

A little less than three quarters of a mile along, a break in the trees permits this splendid view across the valleys of the Keāhua (‘the swelling, as a wave’) and Kāwī streams to the saddle between Mt. Wai‘ale‘ale and the Makaleha (‘to look about, as in wonder’) mountains. The peak in the distance is Keana‘awi Ridge.

Saddle between Wai'ale'ale and Makaleha Mountains
Saddle of the Makaleha Mountains

Eucalyptus tree are prevalent at the three-quarter mile point as well. As a matter of fact, there is a tunnel of eucalyptus on the Moalepe Trail, about a quarter mile past the bridge that separates these two trails. When conditions are just right, a little warmer and much drier, the scent of the eucalyptus is almost overpowering. As shown below, the eucalyptus not only provide shade for the understory, but a home for other plants as well.

Eucalyptus at Upper Elevations
Eucalyptus at Upper Elevations

I spotted a lone cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis) at one mile. These birds eat bugs and geckos, and can always be found following behind lawn mowers to snatch whatever the mower churns up.

Cattle Egret
Cattle Egret

Below is the breathtaking view of the Makaleha Mountains from the picnic shelter set up at the one mile distance on the trail. Many visitors are unaware that this is not the end of the trail. From the lawn surrounding the picnic shelter, the trail veers off to the right, but is rather inconspicuous when the grass is tall.

Makaleha Mountains
Makaleha Mountains

About a half mile beyond the picnic area is a little waterfall near trail’s end.  This little fall on the upper part of Opaeka‘a Stream (which eventually leads to Opaeka‘a Falls in Wailua) is more often heard than seen. Its splash pool lies about 30 feet below, and because Opaeka‘a Stream is barely a trickle at this point it’s just a pleasing sound, an affirmation that we have had sufficient rain.

little waterfall
Little Waterfall

A bridge joins Kuilau and Moalepe trails if you want to hike further (about 2.75 miles). The signs are somewhat misleading, and if you zoom in you’ll see that someone has scratched through the line “1.25 MILES TO PARKING AREA” because the other side of this sign lists 1.75 miles as the distance to Keahua Arboretum, which is only a quarter mile from the Kuilau trailhead.

End of Kuilau Trail

According to the Division of Land & Natual Resources website, Kuilau Trail is 2.1 miles long. So, allow at least three hours, more if you plan to take photographs and even more if you want to stop for a picnic lunch; pack at least a liter of water, and as always, sunscreen and mosquito repellant.

Finally, here’s a long view from the trail looking down the Opaeka‘a valley to Wailua (‘two waters’) along Kauai’s east side, somewhat obscured by dense clouds earlier in the day.

Wailua Water Gap

Kaua’i Shave Ice Review #4: Wailua Shave Ice

Wailua Shave Ice's little red trailer is located on the makai (ocean) side of Kuhio Highway in Kapaa, on a vacant lot between two storefronts.
Wailua Shave Ice’s little red trailer is located on the makai (ocean) side of Kuhio Highway in Kapaa, on a vacant lot between two storefronts.

Blink as you drive by, and you might miss the little red trailer tucked between two storefronts in Old Kapaa Town. If you do, you’ll be missing out on some very, very tasty and refreshing shave ice.

The staff at Wailua Shave Ice is super friendly!
The staff at Wailua Shave Ice is super friendly!

Wailua Shave Ice’s offerings are huge, all made with natural syrups, and come in some unique flavor combinations. Although WenYu and YaYu had sampled their offerings before, our visit last month before taking WenYu back to college was the first time for both Brett and I. We loved every bite and vowed to come back again.

The shave ice menu - all cost just $6.50
The shave ice menu – all cost just $6.50

On this visit I ordered a Lava Flow (pineapple, coconut & strawberry), Brett and WenYu each had a Kauai Orange Dream (orange & coconut milk topped with haupia foam), and YaYu tried a Wailua Sunrise (pineapple & orange). There’s a generous amount of seating in back, and although there were others waiting in line, it didn’t take long for our order to come up. Because Wailua Shave Ice does not come with ice cream, I was very surprised by how big the servings were. All shave ice at Wailua Shave Ice, no matter the flavor, costs just $6.50, a very reasonable price considering how much you get. Each shave ice is also topped with fresh fruit (or crushed Oreo on a Cookies & Cream shave ice, or chocolate sauce and toasted coconut on the Almond Joy shave ice). You can ask for a snow cap, but many of the recipes come topped with haupia (coconut milk gelatin) or coconut milk foam, so ordering a snow cap might be sort of redundant for those flavors.

Looking inside a Kauai Orange Dream - you can see how huge the serving is!
Inside a Kauai Orange Dream – you can see how huge the serving is, and how fluffy the ice is! All the serving cups are recyclable paper.
The Lava Flow. The cap on top is made with coconut milk
The Lava Flow. The cap on top is made with coconut milk.  The straw is so you don’t miss out on a single drop.
YaYu's Wailua xx. It looks plain, but was VERY tasty. Wailua Shave Ice natural syrups are DELICIOUS!
YaYu’s Wailua Sunrise. It looks plain, but the flavors were very rich and tasty. Wailua Shave Ice’s natural syrups are DELICIOUS!

WenYu and YaYu enjoyed their shave ice from Wailua so much they went back again the next day for another. Brett and I’ll be going again too – Wailua Shave Ice has earned a spot near the top of our favorite’s list.

YaYu ordered a Cookies & Cream shave ice when she went back.
YaYu ordered the Cookies & Cream flavor when she went back.

Wailua Shave Ice is located at 04-1306 Kuhio Highway in Kapaa. They’re open daily from noon until 5:30 p.m. and accept debit and credit cards. Parking is available on the street or in back.

#Kauai: Kalalau Trail

On the northwest side of the island, where the highway ends at Ha’ena State Park, lies Makana (‘the gift’), better known as Bali Hai from the movie South Pacific. The Kalalau Trail, which skirts the mountain, begins here as well. The trail continues for 11 breathtaking miles through the Na Pali Coast State Wilderness Park to a campground at Kalalau Beach. NOTE: Hiking beyond Hanakapi’ai Beach and/or Hanakapi’ai Falls, a combined eight mile round trip, requires a permit from the Department of Land & Natural Resources (DLNR) because of the many hazards, especially in the last five miles. Since my daughters and I did not obtain a permit, and the fact that I found the first two miles more than sufficiently challenging, this article only covers the four-mile hike to that first beach and back.

Two things that cannot be overemphasized when hiking the Kalalau are water and timing. There is NO DRINKING WATER on the trail, and you should carry (camelbak, canteen, and/or bottles) at least a liter (more than 32 oz.) of drinking water for every two miles on the trail. Also, arrive early because parking is limited due to the variety of attractions at the end of the road, including Limahuli Garden and Ke’e Beach. Unfortunately, we arrived about 10:30 a.m., and parked nearly a mile from the trailhead, so our hike to the Hanakapi’ai Stream and back was about six miles; that is, just over one mile per hour with a half hour for lunch at the stream. In hindsight, 7:00 a.m. would have been a good time to arrive whether hiking four miles or eight—all the way to Hanakapi’ai Falls and back—or planning to overnight it and do the full 22 mile trek.

Ke'e Beach from .25 Mile Marker
Ke’e Beach from .25 Mile Marker

The elevation gain in the first two miles is either only 575 feet or nearly 2,000 feet, depending on whether or not you count the repeated ascents from ravines. That said, the climb over the next quarter mile takes you up to 600 feet above sea level before going down and up again.

Climbing from .25 mile marker to the first summit at .5 mile marker

We were delayed by several blinding downpours on our way north, and we still encountered showers for the first mile or so of the hike. The first half mile or so is rocky and as shown above, more than a little wet. Although I didn’t realize it while taking the next photograph, you can actually see Hanakapi’ai Beach, that little speck of white near the center of the photo, from the lookout at the half mile marker.

Na Pali Coast from .5 Mile Marker
Na Pali Coast from .5 Mile Marker

Due to the morning’s heavy rainfall, several intermittent streams overflowed into the graded trail creating all the mud you could eat, and then some.

Notice tree hump rising above the mud
Notice tree hump rising above the mud

In spite of all this mud, there was much beauty to be seen, both on the trail and out to sea. With all the microclimates along the way I encountered considerable seasonal variability.

Some pay big bucks to have this blue indoors
Some would pay mightily to have this Robin’s Egg blue indoors

This lovely tree has a list of common names that stretch across the Pacific, from Malay rose-apple to mountain apple in Hawaii.

Ohi'a ~ Mountain Apple blooming
Ohi’a’ai ~ mountain apple just beginning to blossom

With three small stream crossings, I reached Hanakapi’ai Stream in just under two hours, and sat down among the boulders by the stream for lunch. Then I waded through the stream and rock hopped down to the beach. Fresh water (NOT safe for drinking!) oozed from the cliff wall above the little salt cave, and filled the little inlet at left.

Hanakapi'ai Beach
Hanakapi’ai Beach

The surf was choppy, aided by the wind, and of course it really is not safe to enter the ocean here. An old rusty, out-of-date sign just above the beach warned that at least 83 have died up here, and a local kayaker died just off the Na Pali Coast during High Surf Warnings in the week following my hike.

Looking back across the strand from the cave
Looking back across the strand from the cave

Rock hopping back up from the beach, I made a friend… an Orange Sulphur butterfly.

Lunch with a butterfly
A butterfly I met at the beach

All of the midday mud turned to hard, hot, red clay by late afternoon. Nevertheless, my return trek took nearly two-and-a-half hours, and twice as much water as the temperature appeared to be following the elevation. People I saw on the beach from three quarters of a mile upslope, passed me before I got this far.

Only a half mile more mud to go.
The morning sluice packed dry on the return trip

All things considered, I doubt I will ever attempt the 22 mile version of this hike. Fortunately there is an alternative, driving around the island and up Waimea Canyon Road to the Kalalau Lookout, which offers a view of the Kalalau Valley featured in the movie “The Descendants,” which is breathtaking no matter how you get there!

Kaua’i Shave Ice Review #3: Wishing Well Shave Ice

Always long lines at Wishing Well Shave Ice
Always long lines at Wishing Well Shave Ice

Wishing Well Shave Ice, located in Hanalei on the north shore, may be Kauai’s most well-known shave ice vendor. It at least has had the most famous customers – there used to be a board posted out front where celebrities visiting Kaua’i who stopped by for a shave ice signed their name (including Ben Stiller, Pierce Brosnan, Robert Downey, Jr. and more). There were no famous people in line the day Brett and the girls stopped by, but as you can see from the long line, it’s still a very popular place. Brett and the girls stopped at the little white truck on their way home from their Kalalau Trail hike last week.


The menu board
The menu board

Wishing Well has a fairly extensive menu, and offers both their own flavor combinations as well as allowing you to mix traditional and homemade flavors (only two though). Their traditional flavor shave ice also is available in three sizes, keiki (kid), small or large. The first time we visited, with friends Todd and Laurie, we were warned that the women who worked in the van liked the orders to be made in a particular way: size first, then ice cream flavor, and finally the shave ice flavors . . . or else. The women were known to get surly if you did it wrong. The girls and Brett said there were no such issues this time with the young people working inside.

The girls' selections
Good advice when you’re on Kaua’i

Wishing Well offers both traditional syrups as well as homemade organic syrups. Shave ice made with traditional syrups are priced according to size: keiki is $4.00, small is $4.50 and large is $6.00. Ice cream (either macadamia nut or vanilla) can be added for $2.00 more, and a snow cap adds another $1.00 to your order. Shave ice made with homemade syrups come in two sizes: keiki ($6.00) and regular ($8.00), and ice cream is still $2.00 extra, but toppings are included. Wishing Well’s combos are each priced differently, from $8.00 to $11.00, but some include a special ice cream flavor and toppings as well. Wishing Well also sells acai bowls and coffee, and they accept debit and credit cards.

WenYu’s mango & lychee shave ice

WenYu wanted  green tea shave ice again, but they were out of the syrup so she instead ordered a small traditional mango and lychee combo over macadamia ice cream with a snow cap, and said it was delicious. YaYu ordered a lemon-lime combo over vanilla ice cream with a snow cap, but thought the syrups tasted a bit weird and said she wouldn’t order it again. Both agreed the ice was nice and fluffy though. Brett ordered the Caffeine Monkey combo, macadamia nut ice cream with coffee and banana shave ice and topped with fresh banana slices, a refreshing combo after a hot day on the trail.

The Caffeine Monkey
The Caffeine Monkey

In our family’s opinion, Wishing Well Shave Ice is well worth the stop if you’re visiting the north shore (maybe avoid the lemon/lime combo though). It’s a bit expensive as far a shave ice goes, but great for a special treat. And, you never know who you might run into!

#Kauai: A Walk To the Pineapple Dump

Lots of people were still at Kealia Beach when we started out
Lots of people were still enjoying themselves at Kealia Beach when we started out on our walk

The walk from Kealia Beach out to the Pineapple Dump is my all-time favorite short hike on Kaua’i. It’s close to our home, just a mile each way on the eastside beach path, and the entire walk is packed full with gorgeous views.

The view as we left the beach area. The tide was in, and the surf was quite rough
The view as we left the beach area. The tide was in, and the surf was quite rough

Brett and I headed out for a walk late in the afternoon on Father’s Day. The sun was still out down at the beach, but there were storm clouds looming over the mountains to the east, and approaching from the south as well. The tide was up, the wind was strong, and the surf was rough – just the way we like it when we take this walk!

One of the BIG houses sprouting up above the beach walk
One of the BIG houses sprouting up above the beach walk

The area on the mauka (mountain) side of the trail used to be covered with sugar cane and pineapple fields, but these days there’s just the new crop of multi-million dollar homes with killer views.

Tidepools run through the rocks on the shore
There are loads of tidepools in the rocks along the shore
Looking north to the Pineapple Dump. The concrete jetty can be seen in the center of the picture.
Looking north to the Pineapple Dump. The concrete jetty can be seen near the center of the picture.

Back in the day, when there were pineapple canneries on Kaua’i, a train would back a car full of pineapple debris out onto the narrow jetty, then tip the car and dump the debris into the ocean. The pineapple was usually quickly swept out to sea and eaten by fish and other sea creatures, but sometimes the tide would be running in the wrong direction and would take the debris south to Kapa’a or Lihue and dump it on the beaches there. The smell of rotting pineapple was said to be ghastly.

The Pineapple Dump jetty
The Pineapple Dump jetty
Looking north from the Pineapple Dump
Looking north from the Pineapple Dump
The surf is alway churning under the jetty . . . beautiful, but deadly
The surf is alway churning under the jetty . . . beautiful, but deadly
The view from the Pineapple Dump - perfect for whale watching in the winter
The view from the Pineapple Dump – ideal for whale watching in the winter

The concrete jetty is all that remains of the dump these days. There is a viewing platform at the top of the jetty, and a small gazebo with a picnic table nearby. The area is an ideal place for whale watching in the winter, when the Hawaiian humpbacks head to the north side of the island after giving birth. You can also sometimes see sea turtles, monk seals and occasionally nene, the Hawaiian goose (an endangered species), along the walk.

Storm clouds heading in on our walk back to the car
Storm clouds heading in on our walk back to the car
Kealia Beach was complete clouded over the we arrived, although there were a few die-hards still there
Kealia Beach was complete clouded over when we arrived back, although there were a few die-hards still there
Nou'nou, The Sleeping Giant. Ancient Hawaiians lit fires behind the mountain to frighten off intruders coming to Kaua'i
Nou’nou, The Sleeping Giant. Legend says that ancient Hawaiians lit fires behind the mountain to frighten off intruders coming to Kaua’i

The walk back to Kealia provides sweeping views of the coast and mountains to the south, including Hau’upa and Nou’nou, the Sleeping Giant. By the time we got back the clouds had rolled in, and the humidity was so thick you could slice it with a knife. The rain arrived shortly after we got home, so we had timed our walk perfectly!

How to Travel Solo and Fall in Love With It

RIshikesh, India, Parmarth Ashram, www.bartnikowski.com
Rishikesh, India, Parmarth Ashram, http://www.bartnikowski.com

Myth: it costs a lot to travel.

Yes it does if you stay in $400 a night hotels like I used to do.

It was fun.

The truth is I love to travel solo.

I don’t have to wait for a friend to break up with her lover, leave their job, or save enough money to go with me.

When I want to go to Nepal, Colombia, or Sardinia I put on my Van sneakers and go!

I can sit in a fancy pants bar/restaurant like I am now and write. And enjoy a superb glass of red wine and be at ease and comfortable.

You never have to negotiate where to go based on money.

I was backpacking in the Himalayas solo in 2009 in Sikkim, India and realized I was spending less money per month than I received for renting out my apartment in Palo Alto, California.

I was spending less than $300 per month to stay in guesthouses eating home made Tibetan soup and momos, traveling by share jeep in the Himalayas, and having a blast.

I came home from that 10-month trip with money in the bank.


Don’t go over your budget on lodging. Yes you can splash out for a few days. But you can also get budget accommodation and live it up at the upper crust lounge/restaurant like I am now.

Secret: you can often work/write in 5-star surroundings enjoying the incredible views and then go back to your Airbnb room, campsite, or rented home.

You’ll discover that having a set amount to spend on lodging will keep you kosher.

I often times suggest a lower price on a room when the price suggested is too high.

It’s called rich foreigner tax. Many countries, like India, have no set prices on their rooms, the price is whatever they can get.

So haggle wisely, you’re still most likely paying too much.


One of the best things I ever did was travel twice around the world with no itinerary buying one-way plane tickets along the way.

If I felt like staying in Bali another month I could, no discussion.

If I wanted to explore Burma for a month, I went.

First time I went round the world I spent $2900 on plane tickets, the 2nd time I spent $1800. No I didn’t buy a RTW ticket, it doesn’t give you freedom on your journey.

For example I decided to stay in Cambodia for 4 weeks when I couldn’t stomach the thought of leaving.

I was falling in love with Siem Reap, where Angkor Wat is located and so I stayed.

No heated arguments. I found an incredible local guesthouse: Rosie’s guesthouse. And another one, Ou Malay where the Cambodian owners and I had a love fest of laughing and daily camaraderie.

It was $7 a night, no wifi but so what?! We loved each other!

Cambodia, Ou Malay Guesthouse Siem Reap, www.bartnikowski.com
Cambodia, Ou Malay Guesthouse, Siem Reap, http://www.bartnikowski.com

You meet so many people!

When you’re solo, there’s no one to listen or talk to. You can be alone with your own thoughts and then Bam! you meet someone seriously interesting who lights up your world and you wonder how you ever would have met them if you were with someone.

This has happened to me more times than I can count. And I’m still in touch with many friends I met traveling from Spain, Korea, Australia, Nepal, India, Germany, and Argentina.

They shook up my world and invited me into a new portal of love and friendship. I never would have met them if I wasn’t solo.

Being solo you have to reach out. It can be intoxicating.

Traveling solo, I mention my thoughts to whoever is standing by, I don’t take offense if they don’t respond, I’m simply radiating aloha which means, I’m spreading good will and happiness which is what the Dalai Lama advises but I didn’t realize until living in Hawaii that this means Aloha.

Pay attention. You might meet your soulmate, best friend ever, or meditation master around the next corner.

Suddenly you’ll be in a new world that you had no idea even existed.

Burma, Shwe Dagon Pagoda, Yangon, www.bartnikowski.com
Burma, Shwe Dagon Pagoda, Yangon, http://www.bartnikowski.com


Yes you can be safe but you have to trust your gut. Don’t negotiate with the red alert warnings your instincts tell you. Pay attention.

Your body knows before your mind. Listen.

And while you are at it: don’t tell people you’re traveling solo. Don’t advertise your solo status by flagrantly drinking and carousing. Really.

Do make friends with families and women. Volunteer with humanitarian foundations that are educating and changing lives. Don’t be afraid to talk to people and smile.

A smile is universal. Yes it works in every country. Try it. It works.

Change Your Life, join Mary on Kauai July to December for a 3-day luxury private retreat, learn yoga and photography on the best island in the world.


Kaua’i Shave Ice Review #1: Ono Ono Shave Ice

The girls and I decided to give ourselves a little challenge this summer: review as many shave ice vendors on Kaua’i as possible and see which one we liked the best. Tough work, I know.

Ono Ono Shave Ice Stand
Ono Ono Shave Ice Stand

Shave ice (NOT ‘shaved’ ice) is the quintessential Hawaiian treat. Unlike a snow cone, where ice is crushed, with shave ice the ice is actually shaved, creating a fluffy, snow-like consistency. The sharper the blade, the fluffier the ice. As a result, a shave ice is much bigger than a snow cone, and you eat it with a spoon.

Flow chart for upgrading your shave ice
Ono Ono’s flow chart for upgrading your shave ice

There are different ways you can upgrade your shave ice. You can ask for ice cream on the bottom – vanilla or macadamia nut are the most common flavors. Sometimes the ice cream is included in the price, other times you have to ask for it. Most shave ice vendors will allow up to four different flavors at no extra cost, and there’s plenty of room for them. If you really want to go all the way, you can ask for a ‘snow cap’ – sweetened condensed milk (sometimes flavored) is added over the top. Locals often ask for li hing mui (dried Chinese plum) powder as well, but it’s an acquired taste.

So refreshing on a hot day!
So refreshing on a hot day! The girls’ (in front) have ice cream underneath the ice, mine (in back) doesn’t.

We began our Summer Shave Ice Challenge at Ono Ono Shave Ice in Kapaa Old Town, one of the girls’ favorite places for this treat. Ono Ono only serves one size of shave ice: BIG. The ice they hand you is easily five inches across, and just as tall or taller. They have loads of flavors, and a nice menu of special flavor-combo options. I ordered the Kaua’i Sunrise: mango, pineapple, passionfruit and coconut syrups, and Brett got the Rainbow: vanilla, pineapple and strawberry. The girls ordered their own flavor combos, with vanilla ice cream on the bottom (they forgot to ask for the snow cap). Ono Ono’s price is right too – $3.50 for a basic shave ice, with added vanilla or macadamia nut ice cream only $1.00 more. Snow caps are free. On the down side, they don’t offer any natural flavor syrups, and according to the girls, their shave ice is not the most aesthetically appealing either. Ono Ono also serves halo-halo shave ice, a Filipino variation made with evaporated milk and other various ingredients. It’s served in a tall glass versus a cup.

Brett's rainbow shave ice from Ono Ono's - you can see how big they are!
Brett’s rainbow shave ice from Ono Ono’s – you can see how big they are, even without ice cream underneath.

Ono in Hawaiian means ‘delicious.’ We’re pretty sure the first Ono in the name refers to the Ono family that runs the restaurant next door, but it could just as well mean ‘doubly delicious’ shave ice. They are!

Back To the Beach

The view from Kealia Beach
Our Kealia Beach view on Monday

We live just three minutes away from the beach. That’s right – three minutes, not even three miles. You would think that living so close we would be at the beach all. the. time.

I wish. I LOVE going to the beach. Our family had a beach house in Southern California (San Clemente) when I was growing up and we spent our summers and many weekends there. I gave up on going to the beach while Brett was in the navy, and while we lived in Oregon (other than for walks), but I fell right back in love when we arrived on Kaua’i.

Some older surfers were shredding it on Monday
Some older surfers were shredding it on Monday

When Brett and I went down to the beach on Monday, it was the first time we had been since March 27! It was a perfect beach day though with blue skies and a lovely breeze. We set up our umbrella and chairs, covered ourselves with SPF 70 lotion, and settled in for a couple of hours. The surf was up, and some older guys were out in it, loads more fun to watch than the usual younger surfers we see. These guys were fearless, and their technical skills were nothing short of amazing.

Heavy clouds on the mauna (mountain side) of the highway, but the wind was from the east so they never came any closer
There were heavy clouds on the mauka (mountain) side of the highway on Monday, but the wind was from the east so they never came any closer

Driving ourselves to the beach is easy. Getting our schedules and the weather to cooperate and coordinate so we can actually go is not so easy though. Between the girls’ schedules, family appointments, and other errands that need to be run, there often isn’t a whole lot of time left to fit in a beach visit. I wish it were as easy as just running down and setting up a chair in the sand, but I need to be under an umbrella because of my fair skin, so hauling our stuff down, getting set up, and getting our skin protection on is time consuming, and frankly not worth it if we can’t stay for more than 90 minutes. We’re like most Hawai’i residents these days though – people who live here have a lot less time for the beach than people imagine. The majority of people you see at almost any beach here are tourists.

Plus, when our schedules give us enough time for the beach, it can still be overcast, too windy or too cool (yes it does get too cool here) for a beach visit. I can’t begin to tell you how many days we’ve said that we’re glad we live here and not paying for a vacation because a whole week or more can go by where you wouldn’t want to or can’t be down on the beach.

One of my favorite beach views
One of my favorite beach views

With summer vacation coming up, Brett and I are looking forward to heading down to Kealia more frequently. We’ll also have the time to visit some other beaches around the island that we enjoy but that require more of a drive (Anini, Lydgate, Salt Pond, Poipu). WenYu loves to go and soak up the sun and will go with her friends or join us some of the time, but YaYu is not a beach person (neither is Meiling) – she almost always prefers to stay home to read or watch TV on her own whenever the rest of us want some beach time.

#Kauai: Monkeypod Jam (and a small giveaway!)

(photo courtesy of Chicago Tribune)

My first taste of Monkeypod Jam happened when our family came to check out Kaua’i back in December of 2012. We stopped by their booth at one of the farmers’ markets we visited, and were invited to sample the different varieties they offered that day.

Each jam we tried was packed with amazing flavor that practically screamed “Kaua’i.” My hands down favorite was the lilikoi (passionfruit) curd. It was like finding heaven in a jar. The only thing that kept up from buying one of everything (and more than one of the lilikoi curd) was that we were traveling with just our carry-on bags, and would have had to relinquish our treasure to the TSA when it was time for us to leave.

There's always a wide variety of seasonal jams, sauces and pickles available.
There’s always a wide variety of seasonal jams, sauces and pickles available.
You can buy ready-made gift boxes, or create your own
You can buy ready-made gift boxes, or create your own

Monkeypod Jam is, hands down, my favorite Kaua’i-produced product. All the jams, pickles and sauces they now produce are made from fruits and produce grown on Kaua’i. Founded in 2010 when teacher Aletha Thomas had 100 pounds of ripe mangos left on her doorstep, Monkeypod Jam now works with over 25 Kaua’i farmers to produce more than 50 seasonal preserves.

The Monkeypod Jam storefront is unassuming, but delights await inside!
The Monkeypod Jam storefront is unassuming, but delights await inside!

Last year Monkeypod Jam opened a shop in Lawai, on the south shore of Kaua’i. Unassuming from the front, inside you can find all their currently available jams and other preserves, as well as (really good) coffee, pastries (some of which include their jams), quiche, soups, sandwiches, and other drinks and treats, many made from locally grown or raised products. Just recently they have began offering whole quiches and quarts of their freshly prepared soups for sale.

Fresh selections on the menu board change daily
Fresh selections on the menu board change daily
Freshly made quiche are available every day
Freshly made quiche are available every day
Pastries filled with Monkeypod Jam.
Pastries filled with Monkeypod Jam.

The store also offers monthly craft and cooking workshops. Recent classes have included haku (floral head wreath) making, indigo shibori (Japanese tie-dye), succulent terrariums, and pickling.

Indigo shibori handtowel sets
Indigo shibori handtowel sets

You can check out all the different varieties of jams and preserves that Monkeypod offers here. I’m also offering a chance to win a two-ounce jar of their Tahitian Lime Curd (tastes like key lime pie!) along with a locally-produced wooden jam spoon and a reusable cloth bag. To enter the giveaway, please leave a comment below; you can enter once a day (let me know the flavors you like!). You can also earn an additional entry (or two) by becoming a follower here at The Occasional Nomads, or mentioning the giveaway on your own blog – again, let me know in a comment. The giveaway ends on Saturday, May 14.

Your gift will come in a small reusable cloth bag
Your gift will come in a small reusable cloth bag