Today’s new tropical fruit was the lilikoi – Hawaiian passion fruit, usually referring to the yellow variety. They are nuttier, more bitter, less fluorescent, and not as sweet or tart as their purple counterparts. I didn’t love them standalone, though they worked well with our yogurt this morning. We also tried our hand with a lilikoi-pineapple milkshake – it was not quite as successful as our longan experiment. We were worried about overpowering the lilikoi with pineapple, but we shouldn’t have fretted – two lilikoi stood up handily to half of a large pineapple.

Overall, I will stick to purple (a.k.a. black) passion fruit – the wrinklier, the better.

Closed lilikoi
They look a bit like lemons, much larger and less wrinkly than their purple counterparts

Open lilikoi
Inside however, they look quite similar

Lilikoi-pineapple smoothie
My smoothie model trying out our concoction


I thought I hated papayas. They could be made tolerable if generously squirted with lime juice, as I learned in Pondicherry, but in general I never sought them out. My co-workers in Mae Hong Son would occasionally bring me a plate of chilled papaya on hot days in the office, and I enjoyed the Thai variety more than I did the Indian, but it was still not one of my favorites (green papayas were, of course, another story).

Kenny generally shared the same opinion of the fruit during our travels in Asia, so I was surprised on our first day here when he suggested that we try a Hawaiian papaya while we browsed the offerings at Moloa’a Sunrise Fruit Stand.

We were both pleasantly surprised the next morning, when we carved up the papaya for our oatmeal. It was sweeter and richer than the ones we had tried in Asia, and we were instantly hooked. Since then, we’ve had papaya on fruit plates, in smoothies, mixed into our yogurt or cereal in the mornings, and in a cucumber-papaya-lime-spring greens salad that we invented and enjoyed so much that we prepared it twice in one day.

The storekeeper at Banana Joe’s taught us how to choose a ripe papaya: just look for the ones that are mostly orange on the outside. When choosing, they prefer that you judge by color and refrain from squeezing to avoid bruising the goods.

Hawaiian papaya

Papaya smoothie
Homemade papaya-banana-pineapple smoothie

Fruit plate
Kenny surprised me one afternoon with this beautiful fruit plate – lychees, grapefruit, banana, and papaya (with lime) – all local ingredients

Papaya salad
The salad that came out so good we made it twice in one day


I first encountered longans in 2007 on a trip through the Mekong Delta. Our guide picked them fresh from the trees for us to try. I remember them being lychee-like, but with thicker skin, much bigger pits, less flavor, and a very thin flesh. Overall, they were a lot of work for minimal payoff.

This week in Kauai, I’ve been keen to try any local tropical fruit on offer. On Tuesday that included longan, the special of the day at Banana Joe’s. It turns out that Hawaiian longan are notably different than their Vietnamese counterparts (or at least from the ones I tried). First, the pits are much smaller. Second, the skin is thinner (think lychee, but without the bumps). The result is a lot more flesh per-longan. They have the texture of a lychee with a taste that’s nuttier and less sweet. While a significant improvement from my first longan experience, they still weren’t a fruit I would gorge on directly. However, tonight we made a great discovery: longan-banana-soy milkshakes. The banana added just the right amount of sweetness and soy milk complemented the longan’s natural malty flavor. While it still won’t make my top 10 list of tropical fruits, in Kauai I’ve learned how to appreciate it and will likely make another milkshake the next time we visit!

Longan purchase from Banana Joe's

Bowl of longans
Hawaiian longans – thin skin, thick flesh

Eating a longan
Trying my first Hawaiian longan

Longan milkshake
Longan, banana, soy milkshake

Kaweonui Beach

Our intention this morning was to head out early to Pali Ke Kua (Hideaways) Beach, which had been recommended to us by a number of people. However, a leisurely breakfast resulted in us arriving at its teeny (and overfull) parking lot by 10:30. Fortunately there is no shortage of great beaches on the northern shore of Kauai, and we backtracked two miles through Princeville to check out Kaweonui Beach, also known as “Sealodge Beach” due to the access trail’s proximity to Sealodge Resort. After skirting the edge of the resort near Buliding A, we were able to found our way courtesy of some imposing signage.

Caution sign 

View of the beach from the access trail

The trail was beautiful, with lots of shade and great views of the coast. We were also blessed with dry, sunny weather, so the trail was easy to navigate – much simpler than the path to Queen’s Bath.

When we arrived, we had the beach almost to ourselves. We set up shop under the ample shade, enjoyed a few games of Scrabble, and sunned ourselves on the large volcanic rocks. The sand was coarse and thick; the water was clear though the surf was too rough for snorkeling (which is supposedly “outstanding” during calm seas). We had read about numerous turtle sightings in the water, but to my dismay there were none to be found today. 

Overall I found Kaweonui Beach to be a peaceful, secluded, relaxing beach that feels worlds away from civilization, yet is easily accessible.

About 2/3 of the petite beach

View of the massive reef from the access trail


Queen’s Bath

While not technically a “beach,” Queen’s Bath is one of the most interesting aquatic sites we’ve checked out so far on this island. After a tricky hike down a narrow, muddy trail, we scampered over lava rocks for what felt like a long time (although it was likely a relatively short distance) until we arrived at the Bath – a calm, natural pool with lava rock walls and water that is constantly refilled by the wild tide just beyond its edge. The tides also wash in numerous sea creatures, making the pool an excellent spot for snorkeling – mask and snorkel only, no fins needed.

The trail to Queen's Bath
Ocean view from the Queen’s Bath trail

Waterfall on the trail
A nice water feature on the hike down

Shortly after we arrived at Queen’s Bath, some menacing rainclouds started moving our way, and a gentle shower began. We decided that there was no point in leaving, as the water inside the pool was still calm, visibility was good, and the fish were plentiful. Kenny moved a few of our belongings into a little cubby in the rocks for better cover, and we continued our snorkeling. It was fun to watch the ocean outside the pool get more turbulent as the rain picked up, and occasionally a big wave came over the edge of the pool, splashing us and carrying in sea creatures as unwitting passengers.

The Bath, with ominous rainclouds in the background
Ominous rainclouds overhead

Kenny lounging on the rocks
Kenny lounging on the rocks after the rain let up

Taking a bath
Kenny enjoying the bath

Queen’s Bath is a unique place, and should certainly make anyone’s list of spots to check out on a trip to Kauai. The trail, while a bit narrow, should not be a deterrent – if I can do it at 25 weeks pregnant, I can’t imagine it would pose a challenge for most.

Kauapea Beach

Our second stop of the morning was Kauapea Beach, also known as Secret Beach. While I heard that the secret is out and that this secluded beach can get quite crowded, we couldn’t pass up the “long, golden sand beach…worth the trip year-round just to see its exceptionally scenic beauty.”

We followed the unmarked road to a small parking lot which still had multiple free spots available (I guess those who know the secret also sleep in past 10:30AM). With our snorkeling gear and beach chairs in tow, we set off on a hike through the forest and down to the beach.

Hiking to the beach 

10 minutes later, a pristine secluded beach with soft, fine-grained sand welcomed us. The waves were too rough for snorkeling today, but we had a relaxing morning reading under the false kamani trees, enjoying the views, and splashing around. We also enjoyed free entertainment in the form of aspiring surfer kings; I got to practice my sports photography, a pastime I quite enjoy when the opportunity presents itself. Secret Beach fully lived up to the hype, and we only left the beautiful scenery when we succumbed to the lunchtime call of our growling tummies.

Facing west on Secret Beach
Soft sand, and heavy waves breaking on the west side of Secret Beach

Facing east on Secret Beach
Views of the Kilauea Point Lighthouse to the east

Kenny on the beach
Chilling on the beach

Surfing Surfer crash
Tricksy waves

Self portrait

Orange Habanero

As you know, I love chilies. When Kenny and I were browsing the produce section at the Princeville Foodland a few days ago, he asked me which chili I’d like to have on hand to spice up our morning eggs. We declined the jalapenos and anaheims (not spicy enough), but Kenny remembered from a past conversation with a purveyor at the Seattle farmer’s market that habaneros were supposed to be among the spiciest chilies out there. We decided it would be good to have 5 or 6 of the teeny little guys around.

That evening, we cooked up some quinoa to make a salad, with a few diced tomatoes, onions, cilantro, carrots, local oranges, olive oil, and a few squirts of lime juice. Kenny told me that he would start with “just two” habaneros – we could always add more if the salad wasn’t spicy enough.

We were in for a bit of a surprise. The salad was so spicy that we almost couldn’t eat it. Almost. It may have even been spicier than Sumalee’s 6-star spicy mango salad (though probably not). But it was also amazingly delicious, in that it-hurts-so-much-to-eat-it-but-I-can’t-stop sense. Kenny reminded me that there’s a reason for this spicy food behavior, which explains why I find chilies so addictive. According to this site (which will also teach you more than you ever wanted to know about the chemistry of spiciness), eating chilies induces a certain amount of pain, which triggers the brain to release endorphins in order to ease the pain, creating a kind of chili-induced high. It turns out that we chili fiends are basically drug addicts.

There’s also a way to quantify spiciness, known as the Scoville Unit, and as a result there is a general ranking of chilies by hotness. You can check out a nifty chart with the rankings here, ranging from sweet bell peppers (not spicy), all the way up to the naga viper, which recently beat out the infinity chili to earn the Guinness World Records title of world’s hottest chili. The verdict: the habanero (meaning from Havana) is basically the spiciest chili that’s readily available in grocery stores and the like. The naga viper is apparently an unstable hybrid incapable of reproduction, and likely won’t be making its way to the Princeville Foodland anytime soon.

Orange habanero
Fiery orange chilies – they are tiny in size, but not in flavor

Shave Ice

All over Kauai, restaurants, storefronts, and free-standing carts offer “Shave Ice” – a large domed cup of finely shaved ice, with your choice of flavored syrups and optionally served over a scoop of ice cream. With the exception of the ice cream, I know this sounds like a snow cone, but the guidebooks all insist that’s an unfair comparison (snow cones are “crushed ice” and shave ice is “an infinitely fine powder”).

As it was a treat “everyone should try” (and we were craving a ice cold snack as a respite from the heat), we put aside our skepticism and picked up a shave ice in Hanalei this afternoon. Wishing Well, the top-recommended truck for shave ice, was closed, so we journeyed across the street to Shave Ice Paradise, another highly-rated stand.

Lauren ordering a shave ice

Our guidebook author swears by rainbow shave ice over macadamia nut ice cream, and we went with a small variation using one of Shave Ice Paradise’s recipies: Bali Hai Sunset (mango, liliko’i, li hing mui) over macadamia nut ice cream. The verdict: indeed, the shave ice is fluffier than your typical snow cone (no real “crunch” to be had). However, the syrups were still sickly sweet, and next time I will just opt for the scoop of macadamia nut ice cream!

Bali Hai Sunset
Hawaiians take their shave ice designs as seriously as Seattlites do their latte leaves


P.S. For those that are curious, it looks like each liter of syrup contains about 1.25 pounds of sugar; who knows how that actually translates into shave ice servings though!

Aloha Kauai

While Kenny and I were in Oslo last December, a confluence of events led us to purchasing a couple of airline tickets to Kauai for the first week of May:

  • We had a companion ticket we needed to use before its mid-December expiration
  • We figured we’d want to spend a week somewhere nice for our last real vacation before there were more of us
  • We were in Oslo, and hence cold

So here we are, in sunny, beautiful, humid island paradise. We arrived around lunch time today, and spent the remainder of the day making our way slowly up the coast to get settled into the apartment we’ve rented for the week in Ha’ena, on the North Shore. While here, we plan to do some hiking, snorkeling, gorging on tropical fruit, serious beach lounging, perhaps a helicopter ride, and a lot of chilling out. Perhaps one of the most valuable things our sabbatical taught us was how to be beach bums, and we certainly don’t want to let those skills atrophy just because we’ve reentered the real world and reassumed responsible adulthood status.

First view of Kauai
Our first view of the island

25-week belly with a view

There are feral chickens and roosters all over this island

50% off Passover Products
Picking up some essentials at Foodland in Kapa’a. We couldn’t resist 50% off all Passover products, so decided we’d be making whole wheat matzoh meal pancakes for breakfast.

Lauren on beachKenny on beach
Frolicking on the driftwood-strewn beach across the street from our rental apartment

DSelf portrait

Top 10 Beaches of Our Sabbatical

We wrote this list while lounging around on the beach in Zanzibar, just to make you hate us. The criteria are totally subjective and not documented anywhere, but involve some combination of most beautiful setting, best food, best amenities, and best overall vibe.

In order from most to least amazing:

  1. Mandrem, Goa, India – we spent a week on Mandrem being beach bums at the end of our stay in India.
  2. Nai Yang, Phuket, Thailand – Nai Yang was so beautiful we had to go twice, first at the beginning of our Southeast Asia jaunt in January, and then for a long weekend trip with Seema and Mark in April.
  3. Galu Beach, Mombasa, Kenya – an extremely laid-back spot to kite surf – or not – and enjoy beautiful water and endless soft sand.
  4. Long Beach, Phu Quoc Island, Vietnam – we spent four nights on Long Beach in February, before we started our volunteer assignments in Thailand, and we ate chili lemongrass shrimp every day.
  5. Khlong Nin, Ko Lanta, Thailand – we spent four nights at Khlong Nin beach on Ko Lanta in January, directly after our stay in Phuket. It was a beautiful setting, but not quite as amazing an overall package as Nai Yang.
  6. Kendwa, Zanzibar, Tanzania – it wasn’t easy to get there on foot from Nungwi, but it was worth the trek, as it offered a beautiful stretch of relatively-secluded beach.
  7. Nungwi, Zanzibar, Tanzania – we spent four nights on Nungwi, in a hotel room with an incredible ocean view. Unfortunately there isn’t much beach to speak of at low tide, but Kendwa and East Nungwi, nearby, offer good swimming opportunities.
  8. Khlong Dao, Ko Lanta, Thailand – we finished up our January visit to Ko Lanta with two nights at Khlong Dao, which was nice but not as secluded or as pretty as Khlong Nin. We did find one of my favorite Thai restaurants in the world at Khlong Dao – Thai Is-San.
  9. Nha Trang, Vietnam – the beach was not as nice as we remembered it from our first visit in 2007, but the tropical fruits are still the best I’ve ever tasted.
  10. Matemwe, Zanzibar, Tanzania – fascinating tidal flat landscape at low tide, pretty (but skinny) stretch of beach at high tide. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it as a place to stay, but it’s certainly worth a day trip.

If it makes you hate us any less, our tans will most certainly have faded by the time we arrive back in Seattle on September 22, and we do not have any more beach time scheduled between now and then.