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  1. The Kayak Trip

Although we are midway through our DukeEngage experience, I still find myself reflecting upon our first group outing. the kayak trip through Hanalei River. Some of us had never gone kayaking, others flew down the river and others wanted to relax after our first week and take in our surroundings. The good, the bad and the slackers. Yes, I am slacker but I successfully photographed our trip without damaging my phone.

Two kayaks on the Hanalei river with mountains in the background.
The group kayaking through Hanalei River.

The Start

This was the first time we had gone out, besides the grocery store, as a cohort. The 10 of us all piled into our trusty white van with our great on-site coordinator Liz and amazing program director Rebecca all excited for our journey out into the Pacific Ocean (for a short little while) and predominantly navigate the Hanalei River. We were set to go with what we thought at the time was an ample amount of sunscreen applied (Alex can confirm it was not), lots of energy and our guide Jay.

Multiple people in front of kayaks on the beach.
Cohort before the kayak trip.


Overall, the trip was a great learning experience and it added to our knowledge about Kauai. Jay would stop and highlight the native plants versus the invasive species. Shockingly, mostly everything you think is Hawaiian was brought to the islands, such as mango, guava, papaya, and even pineapple. We were introduced to the Albizias, which we had dubbed the safari trees. These trees can shoot up rapidly, up to fifteen feet per year which leaves them without rings like a normal tree. Read more here. Additionally, Jay shared the origin of Kalo, which is a fundamental plant of Hawaiian culture. Watch an animated version here. As we paddled down the Hanalei River, we were able to connect what we had been learning from our first week of work to the land itself. It was truly an enriching experience.

Two kayaks on the Hanalei River with mountains in the background.
Danielle and I kayaking down the river.


As I reflect on our first week experience it is eye-opening to see how much things have changed. The impact the taro plant has had on my life. How it has been in practically every meal in a variety of forms. We have eaten kalo for breakfast, lunch, as a snack, and in pizza and desert. I have now seen almost its entire life cycle and contributed to it by crushing pink snail eggs and planting the beginning part of a lo’i. Additionally, Thursday we help out with poi day preparations. Although my appreciation from poi comes from a culinary standpoint. However, the locals’ connection runs deeper and is rooted in history. The opportunity to see the bond between the two has been an honor. We have also become closer as a group and it has been a good time living with everyone in one big house.

Two boys in a kayak on the Hanalei River.
The boys kayaking down the river.