In a Land Called Hanalei

Written by Paul J. Blank on . Posted in Travel

Moshe, the savior of Israel, received his name from the daughter of Pharaoh, who said, “Ki min hamayimm’shitihu — I drew him out of the water.” I also have my own personal savior. He is a ukulele-playing, heavy-drinking, one-toothed Hawaiian with a rubber dingy and a major record deal. His name is Ali’i Ali’i Kai and he was born in the water.

I met Ali’i Ali’i Kai while hiking along the Na Pali Coast on the Hawaiian island of Kaua’i. The hike begins in the town of Hanalei (of “Puff the Magic Dragon” fame) and ends on Kalula Beach, a secluded area only accessible by foot. The trail is along a narrow ledge on the side of a dangerous cliff. Slippery and eroded, people have plummeted from it to their deaths in the water below.

The hike was filled with adventure. The first day, my partner’s hiking boots fell apart, and we returned to Hanalei to re-outfit. The second day, a naked man came into our camp and stole our food! The third day, we assisted another hiker who broke his leg and needed to be evacuated by helicopter (I collected rocks and wrote SOS in the sand). The fourth day, I slipped and nearly fell off the cliff, saving myself by grabbing onto a branch at the very last moment.

Finally, on the fifth day, we arrived at Kalalu Beach. It was spectacular, with white sandy beaches and a beautiful waterfall. Grottoes with water gushing. Exotic birds and fish that jumped out of the water. My days were spent swimming, gorging on fruit from the trees, and hanging out with some very “mellow” people.

Alas, it was time to return. But, as I began the ascent, I started feeling anxious and unsteady. Remembering how I had almost fallen off the cliff, I simply could not go on. My partner continued, but I returned to the beach. The next day I tried again, but still experienced these same feelings.

Unsure what to do, someone suggested that I speak with Ali’i Ali’i Kai, a Hawaiian singer who lived at the edge of the beach. I found Ali’i Ali’i Kai lying in a hammock, playing a ukulele. I asked “Can I pay you to take me back to Hanalei?” Ali’i Ali’i Kai scowled and told me to come back the next day and ask the question differently.

I was bewildered until it was explained to me that Ali’i Ali’i Kai had previously been arrested for making money transporting people back to Hanalei. Therefore, I needed to ask him without suggesting that there would be compensation. The next day, I simply asked: “Are you going back to Hanalei?” Ali’i Ali’i Kai smiled, showing his one tooth, and instructed me to leave my backpack and meet him on the beach the following morning.

When I arrived at the beach, I did not see a boat; rather, I saw Ali’i Ali’i Kai’i far out in the water, holding my backpack and sitting in a tiny rubber dingy with a detachable motor. I was concerned that if I didn’t make it to the dingy quickly, he would leave without me. Without disrobing, I began to swim, fighting against the waves and the weight of my clothes. I also sensed that I was not alone in the water and, sure enough, there was a seal swimming alongside me!

Finally, I reached the dingy and climbed aboard. My request for a lifejacket was met with laughter. The dingy sped along, as Ali’i Ali’i Kai performed daredevil maneuvers close to the cliffs. I tried making conversation, asking Ali’i Ali’i Kai how he received his name. He responded “I was born in the water.”

When we arrived in Hanalei, a well-dressed man waded into the water and hugged Ali’i Ali’i Kai. The man explained that he was a record producer and he came to the beach each day in the hope that Ali’i Ali’i Kai would show up sober enough to agree to go to the recording studio. He confirmed that Ali’i Ali’i Kai is a well-known Hawaiian singer.

I asked the record producer to explain to me Ali’i Ali’i Kai’s response as to how he received his name. The producer explained that the name Ali’i Ali’i Kai translates to “he who was born in the water.” He received this name because his mother worked in a hotel, and when it was time to give birth, she waded into the ocean, delivered the baby, and then went back to work.

Upon hearing this, I realized that Moses and Ali’i Ali’i Kai essentially shared the same name. But, upon further reflection, I realized something even more stunning. Just as Moses was the savior who led the Children of Israel to the Promised Land, Ali’i Ali’i Kai was the savior who led me back to Hanalei!

By Paul J. Blank

 Paul J. Blank is a teacher at the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School. Send comments or questions to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .