Jed Appelrouth

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Hawaii

December 13- December 25, 2014

At a conference in November I heard the magical words, "the most amazing hike of my life," and my ears immediately perked up. Whenever I hear hyperbole regarding the world's best hike or the most beautiful place on the planet, from a credible, well-travelled source, I immediately send myself an email and add that location to my ever-replenishing bucket list. Exploring the destinations on this list continually renews my appreciation of this exquisite planet of ours. This time around, the magic words were spoken by a travel abroad rep recounting her recent trek on the Na Pali coast of Kauai.

When I scheduled the date of my doctoral dissertation, I knew for sanity's sake that I needed to plan an escape soon thereafter. Though I had initially booked a ticket to northern New Mexico for some solitary hiking and post-doctorate reflection, a change in the defense date and a reminder of the single-digit wintry evenings of Taos led me to seek out a warmer clime. If I wasn't going to lone wolf it on the hills of New Mexico, I would find a travel mate. I reached out to my dear friend, Goozy Alaluf, who was indulging in a post-PhD defense, pre-consulting job hiatus, heavy on Netflix-binge watching and light on global adventure. I sent him a link to the Google images of the Na Pali coast, and the deal was done. Drop the mic. Walk off the stage. We're going to Hawaii.

Oahu

I defended the PhD on December 12th, and the morning of December 13th I was on a plane to LA to rendez vous with G and fly to Oahu. As a child I had seen dozens of episodes of Fantasy Island, leading me to imagine a Hawaiian landing filled with leis, tikki torches, and possibly the dynamic duo of Tattoo and Mr. Rourke. The airport arrival was notably more mundane than I had previously imagined. During the duration of the trip, I never did wear a lei, though something in the back of my mind kept itching me towards the refrigerated flower displays. Childhood fantasies die hard.

We crashed the first night on the amply-touristed shores of Waikiki. We walked the beach in the morning and grabbed a buffet breakfast at Duke's. We packed up our gear and headed west to Pearl Harbor, where we immersed ourselves in the history of the island and the attack which launched our involvement in WW2. The multi-media museum brought the battle and the war into vivid detail.

After a quick lunch, we left Honolulu and took the coastal road towards our evening destination on Oahu's Windward coast. Goozy was chomping at the bit to climb one of the great volcanic hills arrayed before us, so after we passed Diamond Head Crater and Hanauma Bay, we turned onto a side road and found our way to the base of the Koko Head Crater, which boasted a 1100-step climb along an old railroad track. At the base of the giant hill, we met a bunch of high school kids who were lounging around, several of them lying on the ground, having successfully ascended and descended the hill in flip flops! They warned us of the buzzing bees nest, midway through the hike. We navigated our way up the hill, around the exposed nest and the 70 or so floating steps that required careful footfalls. Midway up the hill, we began to pause every 100 steps to catch our breath. During one of our breaks we were passed by a severely fit older Hawaiian gentleman. We realized the extent of his fitness when we ran into him a second time as we descended the hill and he was on his second pass up the hill. We applauded his offensively good health and he proclaimed that he could do this hike 11 times without pause: we didn't doubt him for an instant. When we finally topped out the crater, we were rewarded with a stunning view of the glowing sunset over Honolulu. With the winds picking up strength, we headed down the hill, to the car and off to the first bed and breakfast of the trip.

It was interesting to see the normal American culture–with its big box retail and pervasive franchises– set against a volcanic island backdrop. How bizarre to walk out of a PetSmart or 7-11 or a middle school and be stunned by a postcard-worthy view of towering volcanic cliffs! I wondered if the locals could still see the overwhelming beauty after 30 years of living in its midst. As we proceeded along the coastal road, we saw many signs decrying the surging development of the island. Stop the madness! Save Hawaii! It's hard not to develop paradise, when everybody wants in.

As we drove about the island we enjoyed the challenge of trying to pronounce the Hawaiian street names. It was something of a game: Waikupanaha street, Kalanianaole Highway, Hanakealoha Place. After a couple days, we were becoming increasingly proficient at separating out the syllables. We were so proficient in fact, that several times Goozy and I were mistaken for locals! That may have had more to do with our relaxed demeanor and our deviations from the typical tourist track than our skillful pronunciation; but it was a compliment all the same. Moreover, I have an instinct that anyone who has recently completed the long march to a PhD defense naturally becomes more Hawaiian, at least for a time. Mahalo.

As we headed up the coast, we stopped to grab some cut coconuts and walk about the beach at Kualoa Park, across from the scenic, sharply-rising Mokili'l island. We had initially planned to visit the Polynesian Cultural Center to learn more about the native culture, but we were miffed by the completely unnecessary $10 parking fee, likely a hint of the price gouging that was to follow. We took the pass and headed instead to the free parking and natural beauty of Laie point where the steady waves crashed against the rocky shore, kicking up 20-30 feet of sea spray.

Our journey continued past Turtle Cove to Kawela Bay Beach Park, where we walked through a forest thick with gargantuan Banyan trees that had been featured, among other shows and films, in the TV series Lost. Goozy showed off his tree climbing skills as he bounced around the towering Banyan. We walked along the beach and were happy to find that true to its name, Turtle Cove was home to many sea turtles.

Continuing along the belt road, we dropped the car by Sharks Cove and walked the beach to the famous Bonzai pipeline where intrepid surfers navigated the 20-foot waves. The camera crews were on temporary break during this week of International Surfing Competition. Walking across the beach, you could feel the tremendous power of the waves. I'm used to seeing and hearing waves, but this was different- there was a bodily resonance, borne of the power of the crashing walls of sea water. The wind whipped the red beach banners into a tattered frenzy, announcing dangerous swimming condition and mountainous ocean swells. We watched safely from the shore as surfers and body boarders rode the behemoths all the way to the beach.

We continued along the coastal road to Waimea valley, where a sign announced the Waimea Waterfall and Botanical Gardens. We turned in and were amazed by the towering acacia trees. The falls were modest, but the trees and flowers were gorgeous. I was like a kid in a candy store, bouncing around photographing the flowers and towering trees. My soul was happy in that park; amid so much natural beauty, I was ready to take up permanent residence. Eventually we lost our sun, and we headed back to Honolulu, crossing the center of the island. We dropped our bags at a cheap hotel off Waikiki, grabbed dinner at familiar Duke's and called it a night.

Kauai

We took the 30-minute flight from Oahu east to Kauai. We grabbed our rental car and headed north to drop our bags at our next Airbnb suite. En route, we stopped for lunch and were highly amused by a colorful rooster who was strutting about the property, adding some local flavor to our lunch. The wandering roosters and feral chickens of Kauai were an exciting novelty, and it wasn't until our sleep was interrupted by raucous rooster calls early the next morning that the bloom was off the rose.

Once we had claimed our room and dropped our bags, we headed to Anini beach where Goozy jumped in for a quick snorkel, and I relaxed on the white sands. Hankering for some local produce, we made our way down the road to an overpriced organic food market where we picked up delicious avocados, passion fruit, star fruit, and these grapefruit-looking, orange-tasting fruits.

We drove on toward the end of the ring road, as sunlight streamed through the beautiful forests of Koa (Acacia) and Albizias trees. We finally arrived at the trailhead of the famed Kalalau hike, across from Ke'e beach. We struck up a conversation with a couple of French hikers who had just completed the 22-mile hike in a single afternoon! Those dudes are fit!

We walked to the beach and ran into Joe from Jackson Hole- who was currently living in his tent with his Dutch barrista girlfriend and bussing tables to make ends meet. We met Joe's Minnesota mate, and this nutty French-accented German who purportedly spoke 9 languages and planned on returning to Myanmar to open a hostel. We offered to give the three of them a lift back into town and listened as they opined on life, purpose, culture and their many grandiose plans. Listening to the three young guys, I laughed to myself and felt a lot closer to 40 than 20. But I certainly appreciated their sense of adventure and possibility. After dropping them off, we grabbed groceries for our hike, a delicious fish dinner at Postcards café in Hanalei (score one for Trip Advisor!) and headed back to the ranch.

We soaked in the hot tub and traded stories with the two German hikers who were preparing for the Kalalau trek the next morning. Outside of the door to our room, under the flood light, we were impressed to find a mid-size bullfrog, our sentinel who steadfastly guarded our door throughout the evening.

After a relatively brief sleep, we awoke at 4:45 AM to find ourselves in rooster-central. At 3-4 second intervals, the roosters called out to the night sky. The quality of the rooster calls was remarkably varied. Some calls were clear and proud, but one particular atonal and lilting call caught our attention. Sounding sickly and broken, this rooster was in dire need of a vocal tune-up, maybe some rooster personal coaching.

A fellow ranch-guest informed us that hurricane Iniki was responsible for the feral chicken phenomenon on Kauai. The September 1992 super storm leveled much of the island and sent chicken houses sprawling (Dorothy from Oz-style) across the island. When the roosters and chickens landed, freed from captivity, they found themselves bereft of any natural predators and able to set up shop all over the island. Since 1992 the feral poultry population had exploded, and the birds were literally everywhere.

After breakfast we hopped in the car and headed south to visit Waimea Canyon, the Grand Canyon of Kauai. Waimea translates to reddish water, which is a common feature of Hawaii, given its reddish volcanic soil and high rainfall; thus we encountered Waimeas on every Hawaiian island we visited. Along the way we grabbed a plate of fresh grilled chicken and rice-coconut rolls from a roadside vendor: this was easily one of the best meals of the trip. We spent a few hours hiking into the canyon, and then followed route 550 further north into Koke'e State park. We followed the road which eventually dropped us off at an overlook of the Kalalau valley, our destination for the next day.

The view overlooking Kalalau was epic. The low flying clouds obscured part of the valley, but the winds were swift and the cloud patterns changed continuously. As we snapped photos, we were taken aback by three young natives, one of whom was carrying a massive stuffed deer-head towards the overlook. We asked about the stuffed deer, and they told us it was for some class project. We started talking photography, and they mentioned there was a hike which afforded amazing views of the valley and a particular view directly above Kalalau beach, where we'd sleep the next night. They generously offered to show us the path once they finished their head shots. We waited until they were done and had stashed their deer-head and then followed them as they hopped the fence at the top of the park and descended to a hidden trail. Incredibly, several of these kids were wearing flip flops, but they obviously knew how to masterfully navigate the trail in any manner of footwear.

The locals soon left us in the dust, as we needed much more time to safely make our way down the path, mud-slick, with steep sides, scratchy thickets, and the most gorgeous views of the trip. Goozy followed the trail to the very end to meet up with the fleet-footed natives, but I stopped to shoot the valley and take in the unfolding scene. This was the most overwhelming beauty of the trip. Taking a moment to connect with the majesty of this natural scene brought me to tears of awe and appreciation. The emotions only came with the initial viewing, and eventually I adjusted to this new level of beauty. As night began to fall, and Goozy became increasingly nervous about navigating the treacherous path in darkness, I finally returned my camera to my pack and we raced back to the car. From there Goozy drove like a bat out of hell down the mountain, startling several drivers who were used to a greater degree of Aloha on the roads. We made our way back north to our BnB and prepped our gear for the next day's hike on the Na Pali trail.

Na Pali Trail

Packs fully loaded, we headed onto the trail. Mile 1 was straight up and mile 2 was a general slip and slide back down to sea level. We approached the Hanakapi'i beach and were startled by the advisory sign indicating that 83 people had thus far drowned there, admonishing us not to be the 84th. The tick marks on the sign were nice touch. The tranquil allure of the beach apparently belies swift currents that will bring down even the strongest swimmer.

We lunched at mile 6 and prepared ourselves mentally for the precarious mile 7. The internet and numerous hikers had gratuitously warned us of the dangers of mile 7. I was preparing myself for a harrowing full mile, but all the fuss was over a short 100-yard stretch. An intermittent wind toyed with us and the steep drop off below demanded caution; however, following our off-trail scramble the prior evening, this short stretch of trail was a relatively harmless exercise. We clung to the side of the mountain, put one foot after the other and were back on secure terrain within several minutes.

Mile 10 brought unadulterated views of the Kalalau valley, and suddenly all we had left were downhills and flats. We made our way to the beach to see the giant 10-15 foot swells breaking on the shore. As we entered the camping area, we were promptly greeted by one of the more interesting characters we'd meet on our trip, Jacob. Jacob, along with a number of other "residents" had set up a sort of permanent camp on the beach. As we approached, he was raking away the leaves on the trail around his camp ground, which had been stocked with several months' worth of provisions, delivered by Jet ski.

As we scouted the camping site with our packs still on our backs, Jacob offered us to smoke some pot or take a shot of whiskey with him. We hadn't even put down our packs, and he was offering to help us get a buzz on! Amazing. During our brief stay on Kalalau beach, every single time either Goozy or I saw Jacob, he offered us some mind-altering substance. Clearly he was working through some issues with substance abuse, but at least he had the wisdom to lose himself in a place of epic beauty. He could just as easily have holed himself up in a suburban apartment to drink and smoke himself into oblivion, but he chose to abandon sobriety on the Na Pali coast. Even a troubled soul has some innate wisdom.

We wandered through the campsites within the forest, at the base of the giant cliffs before the ocean. We saw many couples who had made private camp, and we could only imagine how many couples conceived on this paradise of a camp ground. Many a Kalalau-blessed baby out there! Earlier in the day, around mile 9, a couple departing the beach had shared with us the location of their camping spot, which had a tarp, hammock and a fire-pit. Gooz finally found the spot, which was past the general camping area, directly off the beach.

Sunset was beautiful, and the roar of the waves was steady and constant. I stood in the water and felt the vibration of the waves hitting all the cells in my body. Such a powerful surf, which sounded like a rolling freight train or an approaching airliner. It took some 15 seconds for each wave to completely break, followed by a brief pause, and the next round of rolling thunder.

We built a fire, made dinner and called it an early night. The sky was overcast, and I awoke several times during the night to see if the stars were going to make an appearance. I had hauled the tripod all the way to the beach and hoped to have a chance to take some night photos. At 4:30 AM, Goozy roused me from my sleep and told me that the sky had completely cleared! I jumped out of the tent, grabbed my gear, and spent the next half-hour on the beach, taking shots and taking in the gorgeous night sky of north Kauai.

Friday morning delivered on its promise of cloud-free, azure skies. We filled our Nalgenes and CamelBacks at the waterfall, loaded our packs and started the 11-mile return trek. We wished we had booked more time in the Valley, and the next time I do this hike, I'll certainly plan on staying for at least 2-3 days to enjoy the beach and explore some of the interior trails of Kalalau.

The bright sun helped dry the mud on the exposed areas of the trail, making for an easier, though a sweatier walk. The wind was gone, which took the bite out of the mile 7 pass. I felt comfortable enough to break out the camera and take shots of the cliffside, rather than needing both hands glued to the rock wall. At mile 6 we grabbed lunch and attempted to help a hiker find her dropped iPhone and save her precious photos. We passed 29 hikers who were headed towards the beach, and we made sure to share the location of our excellent campsite with a pair of hikers. Got to pay it forward!

As we slogged through the wetter patches of the trail, I taught Goozy all the lyrics to Paul Simon's Slip-sliding away. Finally, around 5:00 PM, we arrived at Ke'e beach, dropped our packs, changed into swimsuits and headed to the ocean. After walking across the carpet of soft green moss on the rocks, I took a seat in the ocean and massaged my blistered feet. On the beach we noticed a quad-copter pilot (we saw several on this trip) attracting the attention of onlookers with his high-flying contraption.

Back in the car, we made a bee-line for our BnB on the north shore of Kauai, grabbed a shower and a hot tub and headed south to our next destination in Waimea. Around 9:00 PM we pulled into the neighborhood and met Elwin Machado, our ruddy, diminutive, eccentric host. Initially we didn't know what to make of him, but in time we'd come to see Elwin as the spirit of Hawaii. Famished, we dropped our bags and headed to Kalipaki Joes for fish and chips and an eyeful of line dancing locals. People were supremely friendly, and everyone had a good night.

After a brief night's sleep I awoke to Rooster Apocalypse, or maybe Rooster Armageddon. I couldn't help but start to laugh, and I actually woke up Goozy, who is clearly a sounder sleeper than I am. Never before had I heard so many birds making such a din. Every .3 seconds another Rooster sounded off. I walked outside to look at the dozens of birds that were pecking all around the house, crowing with gusto.

For breakfast Elwin had prepared fresh papaya and a rice-coconut pastry. He offered us great intel on the island, gave us his snorkeling gear and directed us to Po'ipu beach for the best snorkeling on the south side. We learned that his father had been a Senator in Oahu, and he studied and now teaches Hawaiian history. Typically Hawaiian, Elwin loves his SPAM and had over a dozen containers in the cupboard. He also had an affinity for Hawaiian music and gave us a CD of 7 songs he had recently recorded with his band. This became our island soundtrack. We enjoyed the native Hawaiian songs and fell in love with track 5, City Man, which laments the development of the island and poignantly asks "What happened to Aloha and the Hawaiian Way?" This was a question we would ask ourselves regularly during the remainder of the trip. "What did happen to Aloha?" "Have you see Mahalo?" We had no answer to these questions. As we headed out for snorkeling, we noticed Elwin outfitting his golf cart with Christmas decorations in preparation for that evening's Waimea Christmas Parade and block party.

We drove to Po'ipu, picking up another hitch-hiker along the way, a California, skate-boarding transplant. In Po'ipu we found shallow, clear water, and fish that would come in droves when you sprinkled fish food at the surface. I was enthralled by the colorful parrot fish and elegant Moorish Idols with their striking black, white and yellow streamlined design.

After several hours in the sun, we grabbed lunch and headed up the Waimea pass to tackle the Awapuuhi trail. A few miles in we turned back, in order to make it to the top of the Kalalau Valley in time for the setting sun. We arrived at 4:30 PM and hopped the fence to hit the local's trail. The light was perfect; the views were epic. We carefully navigated the slippery, steep trail and were humbled when we saw three beautiful young Hawaiians running toward us on the trail, one holding a drink in her hand as she casually ran along the edges of the precipitous cliffs. The native Hawaiians clearly have a different relationship with this terrain.

After an hour watching the sunset, we returned to the park, made small talk with a few Hawaiian high school kids who had come to the Kalalau lookout to drink, smoke, and roughhouse in the fields. Ahh, what it must be like to be young and live in Hawaii!! To have such epic scenes as the normal backdrop for life.

We drove down the mountain road and parked our car at the outskirts of Waimea. The main street was blocked off until 9:00 PM on account of the Christmas parade and block party. We walked down the main drag, filled with parade-participants, native santas, decked out fire-engines, locals in lawn chairs, tailgaters, and the ever-entertaining Blind Boys band. I enjoyed seeing the whole community coming together for the holiday. And the diversity was remarkable! I had no idea Hawaii was such a melting pot with Native Hawaiians, Anglos, and such a diverse Asian population. I loved the laid-back spirit of the Islanders, with Aloha in their hearts. We grabbed street food, listened to music and enjoyed the sights and sounds of the makeshift parade. Mele Kalikimake. Then it was off to bed and up early for a flight to the Big Island.

Big Island Fun

Arriving in Kona, we were delighted by the open-air airport, shocked by the Christmas surge pricing for a rental car and taken aback by the rugged, volcanic landscape surrounding the airport: sprawling fields of craggy black volcanic rock with whisps of grass and early vegetation taking hold. We took the ring road north and turned east at Waimea where the landscape shifted from exposed basalt to rolling fields of green and yellow before shifting again to giant trees en route to Oipu. Hugging the west coast of the island, the landscape shifted again to verdant rain forest. What an amazingly diverse landscape for so small an island! We stopped briefly at Akaka falls and turned toward the coast to grab the tastiest smoothie of all time at What's Shaking Smoothie: papaya, guava, berries, so vital and tangy. What are they putting in those smoothies?! I inhaled mine within minutes.

We arrived at our favorite accommodation of the trip, a space billed as a treehouse paradise on AirBnB. We met our host, Patricia, a NY transplant, spiritual seeker and artist. Patricia was a lovely, gracious host. She brought us chocolate macadamia nuts, ices, breads, yogurt, teas, and helped us get settled in to her second story tree-house space, with its massive plate glass and screen windows and skylights, flooded with natural light. Patricia had filled her home with her own small paintings, found objects, and natural and spiritual objects; she had created a sanctuary that she was willing to share with others. I enjoyed the numerous geckos that had taken up occupancy in the space, though Patricia said they did a number on her curtains.

That night we listened to the steady hypnotic chorus of coqui tree frogs, infinitely more pleasant than the harsh rooster and chicken calls of Kauai. Sipping fresh cut lemon grass tea with honey, we discussed the last days of the trip and called it a night.

The next day we ventured to the fresh Pahoa lava flows that were a mere three miles from Patricia's home. Pele, the Hawaiian volcano goddess, was at it again! We drove to the still-smoking lava flows and saw the donations that had been offered to appease the fiery goddess. That evening we drove to the Hawaiian Volcanoes State Park to marvel at the massive Kilauea Caldera, with its glowing pool of molten lava. Inside the Park's Jaggar Museum we learned about the living nature of the Hawaiian islands: the 3,000 mile-long Hawaiian-Emperor seamount chain of sunken islands- which lie to the east of Kauai and Ni'ihau, which had been worn down by time and collapsed under their own weight. All of the Hawaiian islands are just momentary formations: they emerge from and recede back into the ocean. The newest island is being born off the west coast of the Big Island, rising tens of thousands of feet from the hotspot at the ocean floor. Anyone living on the Big Island of Hawaii understands the dynamic nature of this land. In short time, new lava flows could cut off access to neighborhoods, rendering them inaccessible.

The following day we lounged around our tree house and, saying goodbye to Patricia, began the cross-island drive back to Kona in the late afternoon. We took a detour at Mauna Kea and ascended to the visitor center at 9,200 feet. We took in the stark views of the conical mountains and looming volcanoes. We arrived at the Kona coast and grabbed dinner. Our evening snorkel trip to swim with the Manta Rays had been cancelled by stormy seas. Goozy booked a morning snorkeling trip with the dolphins, but excess chop and an itinerant tiger shark cut short that excursion.

We enjoyed the final day on the Big Island, picked up some Kona coffee for a friend and flew back to Honolulu for our final night in Hawaii. Goozy departed at the crack of dawn to fly to LA to meet his fiancée and her family for a week-long Mexican Cruise. My direct flight wasn't until evening, so I walked the beach of Waikiki at sunset and watched the sun send its first rays over Diamond Head Crater. I spent the afternoon on the beach acrush with tourists. I could not believe all the activity. Christmas at Waikiki was like Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Sunbathers, and sand-castle builders packed the sand, while surfers, paddle boarders, wake boarders and sailboats filled the water. Grabbing a few fish tacos for the road, I gathered my bags, booked an UberX car to the Airport and waited for the overnight flight back to Atlanta.

The trip was amazing. How has it taken me 39 years to visit Hawaii?! Rest assured it will not take another 39 years for my next visit. The islands are so beautiful, the people so friendly, and there isn't a moment's worry about customs or passports. Having a direct flight from Hartsfield is simply icing on the cake. Thanks for following along. Look out for a new adventure this summer. Some big hills are beckoning!

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