Monday, June 14, 2010


View of Lanai, Kauai from the airplane.

My trip to Kauai to hike the Kalalau Trail on the Na Pali coast did its best not to happen. I had lost my wallet while exploring the lava fields on the Big Island. I was able to fly because I had my passport, but had no source of money until I found a check cashing place to write a personal check to myself. To earn their 25%, they did what a bank would not do. They quickly called my bank to ask if I had the money in the account. Amazing.

Luckily, I have typed my credit card information into so many web pages that I was able to remember it by heart, even those few digits on the back. That allowed me to book my rental car, flights to Kauai, and reservations to camp. Unluckily, the car rental place would not rent me a car without a license and credit card in my hand. I felt they could look up the information they needed from my last reservation five days ago. No dice. They said I might have had my license taken from me by the police. Can the police in a different state to that? I don't know and suggested they call the police to ask if I had lost it. No dice. They also were not bending on the credit card. Since it was Sunday, the buses that could have taken me within ten miles of the trailhead were not running. The one cab at the airport said it would cost $120 to get me out there. I wasn't in a position to really pay that much since I didn't have easy access to more cash. I could have hitched, but was worried about time. The cab driver and I negotiated something a little more reasonable, but I had to walk off airport property for him to pick me up.

Ke'e Beach

My cab driver gave me one of the interesting rides I have ever had. While we drove the 40 miles around to the trailhead at Ke'e Beach, he told me about the sights. He showed me the best hotel on the island, the most beautiful hotel in the world. He pointed out the best beach on the island, the most beautiful in the world. He told me about all the movies they were filming there because the forests were the most beautiful in the world. He showed me the mountain that looks like King Kong's head that was used when they filmed the original. It might have been one of the most beautiful mountains in the world. As I learned about all this beauty, he talked in English that had smooth talking 1920's Italian flavor. He had migrated from the Philippines, but the way he spoke wasn't as influence by where he was from as where he learned to speak.

The Na Pali coast.

Snail on the trail.

The hike is broken up into three legs. The first part goes two miles into to a beach and waterfall trail. This was the worst part of the trail. It was drizzling which was taking the clay and turning into a top notch slip n slide. If only there weren't roots in the way. The second leg is four miles to a campsite and second waterfall trail that was still pretty slippery, but not as bad because not as many people walk in. The third is the final five miles to the Kalalau Valley. The last part of the trail had dried out, but had enough loose gravel to still cause slips. Because a slip on the trail was likely to prove fatal in so many places, this trail reminded me a lot of New Zealand where liability lawsuits don't exist so they do things a little more freely. At most places in the US, I think they would have hand rails and rope tie ins. The slips might not have been the most dangerous part though. A hiker behind me had an arrow land about twenty feet from her. Apparently, the locals who live in the valley were hunting the goats that she wanted to take pictures of.

My camping area in the Kulaulau valley.

Caves next to my campsite where a few people camped.

After seven long hours, I finally arrived at the Kalalau Valley. From the moment you arrive, something feels right. Something feels special. I've felt this at a number of places over the years like Red Rocks and Antarctica, but each one is special in its own way. Each one defies description. The only one to access the Na Pali coast is on foot or by kayak for two months a year. They are regular motorized boats and helicopters that can take you out there, but they can't drop you off. It isn't the same as when you are on the beach being dwarfed by the 3,500 foot mountains that tower overhead, left behind by a volcano. It isn't the same as when it is quiet enough to hear and see the whales blowing under the setting sun. It just isn't the same. It is like driving a car and riding a bicycle. In the car, you watch the scene. On bike, you are part of the scene. On foot, you are part of the scene.


The constellation Orion over the Kalalau Valley beach.

On my first night, I settled in to watch sunset and meet some of my fellow campers. Oddly enough, one of them knew my friend Robin from Antarctica and Denver. She has been on Kauai about two months before me. Small, small world. We got to see a few whales skirting by as we soaked in the last bits of the setting sun. Such a treat.

My private bath.

A weird plant. Maybe a fungus?

My second day in the valley was supposed to be my last. I was worried about getting out in time to catch my flight the following day without a rental car. I didn't want to risk missing it because that would mean I would not make it to Metro East Regionals to see En Sabah Nur (U. of Pittsburgh ultimate) play. Luckily, one wonderful couple I had met on the trail, Steve and Sara, had offered me a ride to where I could catch the bus if I stayed an extra night. That gave me a full day to wander up the valley, find old ruins, stretch my food out, and meet the locals. I don't think I found all the wonderful things in the valley that I could have if I had more time. I have a hunch there is a ton of stuff hidden back there. I did find random camp sites, hidden gardens, and a wonderful place to take a private soak.

Mountains that distinguish the Na Pali coast.

More great mountains.

Normally, there aren't locals at campsites. However, some people have made the valley their home. They bring in lots of supplies by boat and by foot if need be. They even have gardens. I'm not sure if they ever leave. To get an idea of them, think barefoot, tanned, some nudity, some hippy ideas, some great people, and you'll get a good idea of what to expect. It is a pretty simple life in a very special place. I can understand why they stay. One guy I met, Aaron, had adopted his dog from the valley. He had found him as part of a flea-filled litter that had been born there. The locals were super friendly, tossed some good frisbee, and were managing to make pizza out there on an oven they had put together. I'm definitely curious to try living out there for longer than two nights the next time that I go back. I don't think I'd ever sign up for the long tour though. Too hot.

Even more great mountains on the Na Pali coast.

and even more great mountains.

I think the only bad part of the valley for me was the heat on my second day. I was forced to take a three hour siesta in the shade because the heat was too much for me. Others didn't mind or went swimming. I just took it easy. It is a terrible thing to have to take a three hour time out in the middle of your day. If also gave me a chance to get a nap since my next night's sleep would be pretty short to make sure I got out for my flight.

Sunset round two.

Moon set.

On my way out, I moved quickly. The weather had been dry for three days and the trail was no longer slippery. While I was moving quickly, I still got to see some great stuff. I caught the moon setting, the sun rising, all black bumblebees, ready made bouquets of mini flowers, and a man who was maintaining the trail on his own. I wonder if the trial would even be passable without Bill's work. As I understand it, he has been told to stop due to a liability issue, but I'm glad he is taking care of it. The Hawaiian park service isn't well funded and I'm not sure how much they could dedicate to the trail's maintenance. Someone else asked the good question of do they want too much maintenance that would make it too easy to get back to the valley. I can only imagine what would happen if it was a National Park.

An all black bee.

Sleeping on a heliport on the trail.

The steep drop into the sea.

The Kalalau Valley.

Flowers on the Kalalau trail

Because the trail was so dry, I made it back out in no time. Then, I was to hitch a ride from someone who was able to tell me a ton about the situation back there. Apparently, they do try and get the locals out of the valley, but they can't surprise them. Also, the locals know the area better than the enforcement official ever will. Even if they remove some, others come back. They can confiscate camping equipment that the locals leave when then they flee, but new stuff always comes in, especially during the boating season. They are underfunded and just have a lot of other things to take care of, especially in more frequented parks. They valley is so far back that, I assume, it can be neglected a little bit.

Kauai airport lounge with open air gardens in the back.

After a wonderful $2 ride back around the island to the airport, I found another peaceful great waiting area. They had open air gardens and two men come out to play music. Like most airports, they had some art and this one included twenty four clocks from around the world. Each location listed had a special event associated with it. Unfortunately, those events are not named, just the location. One of the locations was the Ross Sea, where I used to work. Kudos to W. Tinus for noticing that all the clocks are actually set to the same time and not to different time zones, like I assumed.

Clocks that give the time for the location of significant events around the world, including the Ross Sea.

This sign entertained me. It looks more like a dance move than a warning.

The Na Pali coast is amazing. Even if you only have a single night out there, it may redefine your definition of beauty and grandeur. Go. Walk. Let your stresses melt off your shoulders. Enjoy. Smile.