Kaua'i Made

When it comes to Hawaiian souvenirs, most people buy shirts, art, or chocolate-covered macadamia nuts.

My parents buy plants.

If the expression is "green thumb", my parents must have "green hands". They love to garden and enjoy being outdoors. Orchids happen to be one of their specialties. While I can't say that gardening is one of my favorite activities ever, I still enjoy looking around at all the vibrant shades and distinct patterns. So, when my Uncle Alex, Auntie Jocelyn, Mom, and Dad all wanted to check out Orchid Alley in Kapa'a, I didn't complain. We also planned on visiting Kauai's "Biggest Little Town" in Hanapepe afterwards. (Fun fact: Quiet Hanapepe, along with the equally quaint town of Hanalei, was the inspiration for Lilo's home in Disney's Lilo & Stitch!)

My mom can look at a single orchid and tell you exactly which species it is and how it should be taken care of...I can do neither...However, I do hope you enjoy my snapshots of the delicate, colorful blossoms that are available at Orchid Alley! (The middle one reminds me of a jellyfish!) Privately owned and run by Neill and Fely Sams, Orchid Alley originally opened as a two-table & two-umbrella operation in a Kapa'a alleyway. After 16 years, they've become a Department of Agriculture-certified nursery that ships to the mainland and even packs flowers for carry-ons. You can also order gift baskets on their website.

My dad pointed out this "Chocolate Orchid" and said it would be perfect for me. (Of course. Because me + food. Always and forever.) Fely was at the shop the day we came in, and she was so attentive and happy to answer all of our questions. She said, when you sniff the tiny blossoms, they smell just like chocolate. And they do. Like little candy bars. Before you even start to wonder, the answer is yes. Yes, I bought the chocolate orchid.

If you're looking for a way to bring a little piece of the island to your home garden or just want a unique Kauai keepsake, spend some time at the Sams' Orchid Alley! The orchids are grown on their land in Kapa'a and include one-of-a-kind hybrids. Like Papalani Gelato, Orchid Alley is absolutely Kaua'i Made.

After our stop in Kapa'a, we drove back down to the South Shore to get to Hanapepe's historic Main Street. This slow-paced community is mostly made of privately-run art galleries. Hanapepe, the "Art Capital of Kaua'i", actually has more galleries than any other place on the island, and holds Art Night every Friday from 6-9 PM. Visitors and locals can enjoy music and snacks, as well. These clapboard buildings are a perfect example of the rustic charm that I spoke of before, with emerald exteriors and white accents. As written in Lilo & Stitch: Collected Stories from the Film's Creators, Hanapepe's "homey details" inspired the setting of the popular Disney film. The directors' description of "beautiful and sleepy" was spot-on. Walking down the main street, I felt like I could've stayed in a late summer afternoon forever, so peaceful and laid back.

Hanapepe is also home to Banana Patch Studio and Aloha Spice Company. Joanna Carolan went to school in Santa Cruz, San Francisco, and Australia before settling down in Kaua'i. In 1991, she started Banana Patch Studio, where you can find her collections of hand-painted tiles, plaques, and pottery. The historic Chang Building was recently restored (photos of the renovation process) and now houses Joanna's ceramics.

Aloha Spice Company offers custom, organic blends of seasonings and rubs, including Garden Island Coffee Rub, Black Lava Sea Salt, and Hibiscus Sugar. The brand was started by Chef Michael Simpson, who's lived in Hawai'i for more than 15 years. I loved how the rustic storefronts just lure you in to stay and linger for awhile and how both businesses are also a part of the Kaua'i Made program.

Just behind the Aloha Spice Company building is the Hanapepe Swinging Bridge. Built in the 1900's as a way for locals to cross the Hanapepe River, the suspended bridge used to be much more flimsy. Then, 1992's Hurricane Iniki destroyed the original structure. It was rebuilt and reinforced shortly afterwards.

So...no, it isn't a thrill to walk across. It's not a weak-in-the-knees-gut-wrenching-sweaty-palms type of experience. It's perfectly safe, and there's still a nice view from this "swinging" bridge.

JJ Ohana's was our last stop. On the outside, it looks like a typical convenience store with some souvenirs sprinkled in. When you walk inside, you'll meet owner Gail Sagucio and learn about her unique shell jewelry. The jewelry is handcrafted, using kahelelani shells found on the secluded beaches of Ni'ihau (widely known as the Forbidden Island). Oddly enough, it was a chili dog on rice that was the real surprise. For a minor $3.50, I got a major meal. A big polish dog is smothered in chili, and the rice on the bottom gets to soak up all the delicious sauce. The actual chili includes beans and hearty chunks of ground beef, but it has slices of hot dog in it too. Not too spicy or too salty, this chili dog is just right. Along with this flavorful frank, my $3.50 bought me a Melona-flavored Icee. Rounding out the hot afternoon perfectly!

We sat at the tables just steps outside the store, and Gail came out to chat with us. Her first question: "Are you guys Filipino too?" When we answered with an enthusiastic yes, it kicked off a conversation about the Filipino community in Kaua'i. The owner of Bobbie's Restaurant, right across the street, also wandered over at this point to join the discussion. He and Gail are both of Ilocano descent, but they were born, raised & have always lived in Kaua'i. They explained that Filipinos feel like a majority in Hawai'i, and most of them are Ilocanos. Since my late grandmother is from Ilocos Sur, I was quite interested in finding out as much as possible. The owner of Bobbie's told us that his family came from Ilocos Norte, but he was born and raised in Kaua'i. My family and I have always noticed the Filipino presence after so many trips here. You can literally bump into a fellow Filipino everywhere you go...but a quick Census check actually showed that a massive 25% of the Hawaiian population and more than 30% of Kaua'i residents have Filipino ties. Passing the Japanese, they've become the second-largest ethnic group in Hawai'i. The most noticeable concentrations in Kaua'i are in places like Kapa'a, Hanapepe, and nearby Ele'ele, where Gail actually lives.

Photo Courtesy of Smithsonian Filipino American Heritage
Gail recounted how Hanapepe makes the most sense, as it was established by "entrepreneurial immigrants". The old Hawaiian Sugar Planters Association (HSPA) turned to rural countries, like the Philippines, to recruit laborers. Starting in 1906, "sakadas" (derived from an Ilocano phrase roughly translated to "struggling worker") immigrated to Hawai'i to work on plantations. They were single men, or men who had left their families behind, and were initially oppressed and segregated. This resulted in their tight-knit communities, almost like barrios in the Philippines. However, the last organized immigration in 1946 brought more women, children, and educated professionals. My mom piped in, crediting the Ilocos regions' affinity for agriculture, livestock, and crafts as a possible reason for the HSPA recruiting. Since she's from Pangasinan, where Ilocanos migrated to as well, she's come across many of them in her lifetime. Everyone then started to discuss how the Filipino-Hawaiian pride has certainly increased in recent years, so I expressed my belief that it was due to many first & second generation Filipino-Americans' upbringing. We're taught to respect our culture. Most of us were raised to respect the hard work and sacrifices of our elders, and we're passing that on to today's kids. When ingrained with these values, it's hard not to identify with both Hawaiian and Filipino heritage.

Before we knew it, the sun was going down and it was close to dinner time. The owner of Bobbie's quickly stood up and said, "I better go light the stoves before the cooks show up." And, just like that, he departed for his small diner. Gail, realizing her shop was supposed to close up 20 minutes ago, also stood to say her goodbyes. We thanked her for hanging out and being such a gracious host. If you're ever in Hanapepe, stop by JJ Ohana's for some jewelry, shirts, crafts...cold beverages, sandwiches, salads...chips, Kaua'i cookies, or a chili dog on rice! Oh, by the way, JJ Ohana's mini-emporium? It, too, is a proud member of the Kaua'i Made program. From Orchid Alley to Hanapepe, it was a day of appreciation. Appreciation for craftsmanship, dedication, and hard work. Filipinos & Hawaiians, two cultures long intertwined. Mabuhay & Aloha!