Last week, I was blessed with a day on Kauai. Literally, one day. I was on the island for just 24 hours, most of them spent in Waimea. It was only my third visit to West Kauai in over 50 years; the previous two were quick sightseeing jaunts up to the Waimea Canyon lookout, with no time to linger in town. So I was looking forward to exploring the area at my leisure, after an evening of storytelling at the Historic Waimea Theater.
The occasion was the 37th annual Waimea Town Celebration (WTC), a weeklong jubilee presented by the West Kauai Business and Professional Association. According to the association, it's Kauai's largest and oldest annual festival. Like our Maui Fair, the WTC provides major fundraising and outreach opportunities for local nonprofit groups. I was impressed with the scope of the event, a multifaceted celebration for a multifaceted community.
Headline entertainment included Fiji and Sean Na'auao, as well as Maui's own 'Ekolu and Uncle George Kahumoku Jr. Local athletes competed in canoe and standup paddle races, softball and basketball tournaments, fun runs, even a Hawaiian rodeo. Cultural exhibits and presentations included a three-act play about Kaumuali'i, Kauai's last king, and a film festival featuring local favorites like "Hawaiian: The Legend of Eddie Aikau" alongside movies from Japan, Korea and North America.
Puni Patrick and Thomas Nizo of the WTC were warm and wonderful hosts, putting together an evening of "Tales and Treats" in which local vendors served up desserts to go along with my Japanese obake stories and Hawaiian legends. My favorites were the cupcakes, adorned with bloody pagodas and severed heads. I was too chicken to try the fiery chili pepper chocolates, created in honor of the night's Pele tales.
In talking story with the audience during the show, I was surprised to learn that the WTC featured a favorite comfort food that I always thought was exclusive to the Maui Fair.
"What? You have flying saucers? What do you put in yours?"
"Hamburger and cheese," they yelled in unison.
"CHEESE?!!" I gasped, "In your flying saucers?!"
They laughed and shouted that it wouldn't be a flying saucer without cheese, although some variations include other ingredients.
"Like corn?" I asked.
"CORN?!!" they gasped.
It was a delightful cultural exchange. Unfortunately, I had to return home before the food court was set up, so there was no sampling.
I spent the night at the Waimea Plantation Cottages, an old sugar mill camp turned resort. Dozens of homes built between 1900 and the 1920s have been beautifully restored, yet each retains the personality of the original occupants. The shingle at the front door of my two-bedroom house read "No. 75, S. Oyama" and a colorful croton hedge framed the wraparound lanai. Through the old-fashioned paneled windowpanes, I could see banana trees in the yard across the lane and a bamboo patch behind the cottage next door.
I fell asleep after a relaxing soak in the claw-footed bathtub, but a few hours later was abruptly awakened by the screech of a severe weather alert on my smartphone and the roar of heavy rain on the totan roof. Once I silenced my phone, the steady rain was actually soothing, and I slept soundly for another few hours.
In the morning, I made a pot of coffee and stepped onto the back porch just in time to see a bright yellow flash of lightning, immediately followed by a crack of thunder that rattled the entire house. After a few more roof-shakers, the storm slowly rolled on, and by checkout time the downpour had eased into a moderate drizzle. Waiting out the storm in the old Oyama house reminded me of rainy days spent at my aunt's Haliimaile home. The smell of damp wood and the sound of a hundred little waterfalls running off the ridges of the roof comforted me.
In town, WTC volunteers were setting up food and craft booths on the muddy grounds of the old sugar mill. Navigating through puddles and parking confusion, they took it all in stride, turning inconvenience into a happy adventure. I heard no complaints or grumbling, just laughter and excited chatter.
I had just enough time to venture up to the canyon lookout before the hourlong drive to the Lihue airport. The panoramic view was only slightly obscured by quickly moving clouds; the vibrant shades of red and green stood out in the mist. I took several family pictures for tourists and captured a couple of roosters on video as they chased each other around the parking lot.
It was a sweet taste of Waimea, enough to lure me back for next year's Waimea Town Celebration. Heck, they had me at "flying saucer."
* Kathy Collins is a performance artist, broadcaster and freelance writer whose "Sharing Mana'o" column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is email@example.com.