Vacationing with my Ex: 8 Days in Kauai

Our rental car was upgraded to a convertible!

Mike and I broke up last summer over a brutal few months that plunged me into therapy, Landmark Forum and salsa dancing, and inspired him to lose 40 pounds, switch career paths and develop a daily meditation practice. Despite the changes, I didn’t want everything to change. I had loved him for 10+ years, and was hell-bent on us staying friends. Sometimes it seemed the only reason we’d speak was for the sake of our cats, but after a few months we started to play Scrabble and go hiking, have meals together and see Improv comedy shows. It was very much the Old Us, just without the guise of being a couple.

We bought tickets to vacation in Kauai because Mike likes islands and I’ll go anywhere.Our first two nights we slept in a tent on an organic farm. When we got up to pee in the middle of the night, we stood outside for a while and looked at the starriest of skies. It could’ve been interpreted as “romantic” but since we’re not in love, it was just comfortable and peaceful.

My favorite of our many hikes was the Pihea Trail at the end of Waimea Canyon. It was often vertical and muddy- a slow 8 miles where we pulled ourselves up the cliffs by grasping at tree roots. At the crossroads I wanted to keep going into Alakai Swamp and Mike obliged; he knows that it’s easier to let me get out my ya-yas than to deal with my excess energy all evening. We walked on planks of wood and hopped rocks until we got to the view of Hanalei Bay and green mountains.

Another notable hike was the famous Kalalau trail that’s perched on cliffs above the north shore. It’s so famous that permits are required to go more than a few miles, the parking area is full by 8am and there’s a relatively steady stream of humanity walking both ways on any given day. My compromise with Mike was to nix this trail from my list so that he wouldn’t have to wake up at dawn or hike in a crowd. But at 5pm on Monday we found ourselves in that neighborhood, and on a whim we started hiking. We had it all to ourselves- the trail, cliffs, ocean and sunset.

The four nights in the middle of our trip were in a 3-bedroom house that Mike booked for a great deal at the last minute. Despite the excess of beds, we shared one without any discussion; it’s fun to fall asleep talking to a friend. We learned that supermarkets are stocked with $6/pound tomatoes from Mexico and, unless you’re a large resort hotel, Farmers’ Markets are the only way to buy fresh local produce. Mike cooked us dinners at our big house while I read to him from the guide book and made a rough plan for the next day.

The February ocean was cold with rough seas but it was still fun to check out all the small enclaves of beaches. Some beaches we accessed with an easy drive on a paved road, some with a 90 minute walk along a sandy horse trail, and some with 15 minutes of informal rappelling down a shoddy rope. The landscapes felt natural and solitary, even though we were rarely alone.

Fun to get there, fun to be there.

The elephant on the beaches was that 90-100% of the people were white tourists. Not even the transplants (who have sometimes lived in Hawaii for 35 years) were in attendance. Tourists are considered spoilers of their land and peace, yet Hawaiians need the tourist industry. Housing is so expensive on Kauai (and other islands) that kids growing up there often have to leave. Hawaiian salaries and welfare checks don’t allow them entry into the real estate market.

Mike and I love driving down random roads to see what’s around the next bend and imagine living there. A gallery owner town us that her Hawaiian son-in-law throws coconuts at the windshields of rented cars driving down their road. When I would navigate Mike onto a back road I’d announce, “Entering a coconut road.” We only got chased off a road once, not by coconuts being thrown but by a large man standing in the middle of the road repeatedly yelling “Fucking Haoles.” Mike did a quick U-turn.

Our last two nights were in a countryside B&B with an absentee host (very common in this era of airbnb.) We sat in the hot tub and alternated looking up at stars and watching the Olympics that an old couple had on in the living room. When we got dry and dressed we used an iphone app (Sky Guide) to learn which constellations we were seeing. This rural house would’ve been perfect if not for the assholes who don’t understand shared housing and wanted to do their laundry at 11pm. Thanks to skills I gained in the Landmark Forum I didn’t stew angrily in my bed; I got up and turned off the machine and all the lights they had left on. For a decade Mike has been trying to get me to travel in quasi-luxury instead of the tents and hostels I usually choose. That night I declared him right. He said, “Finally!” (I just read this paragraph to Mike and he said, “‘quasi-luxury’ is not the right word. It was $100 a night. That should be called ‘acceptable.’”)

We did a few other things that couples tend to do:

  • Catamaran dinner cruise of the NaPali Coast (Our viewings were roughly ⅓ humpback whales jumping out of the water, ⅓ the 4,000 foot cliffs of Kauai’s north shore and ⅓ a textured cloudy sunset where the sunrays pointed up.)  
  • Showered together because the B&B had a large shower grotto with dual shower heads
  • Played mini-golf in Kilauea (The course is a beautiful botanical garden, complete with informational placards about the weird jungle plants.)

Mike and I have been broken up for six months. When wounds were fresh he didn’t want to be friends or ever talk to me again. But he’s Buddhist (for lack of a better word) and doesn’t drag the past into our present or future. He doesn’t hold on to hurt or repeatedly tell himself stories. His steadiness always drives me somewhat crazy because it feels like he can’t relate to my neuroses, but it’s also something very intriguing about him. I respect and trust him more than anyone else in the world. This is why we can stay friends and travel together without romantic ties. I think of him when I hear the Ram Dass quote “We’re all just walking each other home.”


  1. Beautiful tributes to unconditional love!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Carole Bloom · · Reply

    I LOVE this post Rachel! Do you remember the movie “When Harry Met Sally.”? You two remind me of that. When one of you gets married the other can be the Best Woman or Man of Honor. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. yes!! haha!! i have good relationships with all my exes and was insulted when one didn’t invite me to the wedding!! it’s like with animals- once there’s love, there’s always love. just sometimes it gets misplaced for a moment.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. you remind me of me and my ex….we are still friends, 13 years later…he even looks like your ex and it’s somewhat notable that you and i have some similar features as well. well, what can we say – out side of romance, we are a good match. that’s good. nice adventures, story, and the quote you finished with really sums it up well! thanks Rachel!

    Liked by 1 person

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