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May 23, 2008: Manoa Falls Park and Waikiki Beach

Our last full day in this surreal parallel universe.

Zephyr, in particular, has been hankering to take a stroll through a tropical rain forest, such as might appear in Jurassic Park and the like. He has grand schemes of scouting out such locales to use in his own cinematic project one day. Kualoa Ranch did not fit into our packed schedule this time around, but there is a small rain forest rather closer to us that we felt comfortable in allotting half a day to: Manoa Falls Park.

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Following a brief bus ride and an even briefer walk, we were at the entrance, greeted by a flock of wild roosters running around near the banquet/meeting facility. A sign at the trailhead proclaimed that there are pig hunts on Wednesday and Sunday, and by the light of a full moon. That would be a sight for sore eyes.

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Another sign cautioned about the stream running alongside the path, a stream that looked quite innocent enough, but which apparently is capable of inflicting something called leptospirosis, which sounds like an illness you’d contract from eating butterflies.

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As rain forests go, this was a tiny one, encompassing only a few acres. But it was packed with distinctive vegetation like the elephant ear fronds of ape (pronounced in two syllables — it’s not named after a primate), species of fir and more bamboo than you can shake a cane at. Tall bamboo, thin bamboo, thick bamboo, straight bamboo, contorted bamboo, bamboo arrayed in clusters and configurations that really do look as if they’d been planted by a set designer.

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We had our first encounter with Hawaiian mosquitoes, and their presence is hardly surprising — they don’t call this a rain  forest for nothing. They weren’t big enough or plentiful enough to be bona fide pests, but they did make their existence known. By the way, we have yet to see any of the cockroaches that also are reported to make their home in Hawaii — probably because the state is also a popular resort for geckos, which consider cockroaches a delicacy. And we’ve spotted only three or four of those exterminators, as they tend to be nocturnal. For that reason, and because of their dietary predilections, people have been known to keep these lizards as house guests. They slither out at night, slurp down the roaches, then go sleep it off during the daytime when not pursuing their day job of selling insurance. It’s a system that benefits everyone except the cockroaches. We didn’t spot any geckos today either, but we did see enough birds to make up for it, flitting around like the fish in Hanauma Bay.

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The short hike going in (during which we read, via cell phone, a nice email we’d just received from Wally Amos, whom we met a couple of days ago) was made more invigorating by being entirely uphill on the way in and somewhat muddy at times, making it a bit of a challenge to negotiate without taking a tumble. We were rewarded for our mile of exertion by an impressive waterfall at the end of the trail — they don’t call it Manoa Falls for nothing. In fact, it’s tall enough (about 150 feet) to rival Niagara, though of course it’s much slimmer, a thread of water compared to Niagara’s thick, broad sheets. This is the end-of-the-line photo op niche, and the ideal spot to have munchies before heading back down.

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Until a few years ago, you could reward yourself further by splashing off in the refreshing little pool that collects at the base of the waterfall. Thousands of trekkers have done so, apparently without contracting leptospirosis. But then on Jan. 28, 2002, “Manoa Falls” took on a whole new meaning as 30 tons of rock came cascading down the 600 ft. cliff and took a dive into the pool. Fortunately, nobody was in it at the time — although if someone had been there, how would we ever know? So now the pool is roped off to people, and the boulders have it all to themselves.

By the time we’d arrived back in our room, it was mid-afternoon, and we figured that while there were still buses running to Diamond Head, we’d once again missed that boat. Which meant that this revered landmark, named by many guidebooks as Oahu’s number one must-see, would remain, this time around, a miss-see for us. But that’s okay. We had in mind another indulgence that also rates very high on the list, and which has been in front of our noses all week: Waikiki Beach, our temporary front yard. It turned out to be more climactic than we’d ever hoped.

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Truth is, our expectations weren’t all that high. We’d heard rumors that this legendary beach (actually consisting of several beaches along one two-and-a-half mile strand) has seen better days. They say it’s too crowded. They say it’s too developed. They say it’s too dirty, too this and that, too excessively excessive. Just goes to show you that you should take what “they” say with a few grains of sea salt.

To be sure, this is no place to get away from it all; there are entire cities full of people here, especially in the summer, winter, spring and fall. And yet after all these years it still has not become one of those places that are so crowded nobody goes there anymore. In other words, it still wasn’t difficult to find a piece of ground that we could call our own. In fact, there were plenty of bare spots in the sand big enough to park a VW van if that were allowed — although admittedly a semi truck and trailer might be a bit more problematic. And the water, of course, was considerably less crowded, since many beachgoers, rather than actually entering the water and doing what beaches were invented for, just sit and stare at it — or even more curiously, close their eyes altogether and just soak up some radiation, which they might just as well do in their own back yards.

And yes, there is a solid wall of hotels, condos and other concrete monoliths holding up the sky along every inch of available beachfront real estate. But we think it safe to say that they have no measurable effect on the tides. Turn your back on them, and you won’t hear them.

Dirty? Nope, not one scrap of litter, not one whale carcass, not one sewage plant, not one oil rig (yet). All in all, we’d guess Kamehameha would be pleased.

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And the surf — oh lordy, the surf. Finally we hit upon the mother lode, the type of waves that justify the very invention of surfboards and boogie boards and lifeguards. Even just a few feet into the water, they thrash you around like sneakers in a dryer. Kimberly at last had an opportunity to show the guys how a board really boogies. And Zephyr and I finally had our boards behave like wild broncos instead of rocking horses. We never quite achieved the type of jet-pack propulsion that she did, but we did manage to get in at least a couple of atomic spurts of momentum that sent us scudding along on the surface as if it were ice. At one point, I scooted right up onto the sand and nearly bowled over a pair of passersby who happened to be passing by.

The real surfers, the ones who stand upright on their boards like fully evolved beings, also know the real deal when they see it. They formed a line of dozens or perhaps hundreds across, about half a mile out in what appeared to be the magic standby zone, waiting for the next mini-tsunami. And when it came rolling in, they all recognized it at once and pounced on it, then went barreling shoreward like a troop of fierce warriors assaulting the phalanx of stone and steel giants lurking ahead. About a mile out, a Coast Guard ship sat keeping watch on the proceedings in case anyone should need assistance. Most of the time, the personnel aboard seemed to just take in the scenery from a perspective that most people don’t get. Tough job, but somebody’s gotta do it.

Altogether, it was a scene more thrilling than we ever could have ordered from headquarters. You may have seen the iconic postcard photo of Waikiki Beach with Diamond Head looming in the background, teased by a scattering of clouds and challenged by the bank of skyscrapers making a sand sandwich with the ocean. Well, Waikiki really does look like that. Just about every day. Honest.

The postcard shows a distant aerial shot, and you can just make out the stippled forms of humans all over the sand. Just to the left of that little red sailboat near the center is where we would have been. Look closely, and you can almost see us waving and sporting grins visible even from that distance.

Eventually we had to call it a day, because that’s what it had been whether we called it that or not — quite a day at the end of quite a week. After rinsing the sand off our feet perfunctorily, we headed back to the room for a real shower, and began contemplating dinner.

We didn’t have much left in our pantry, except some of the genuine Hawaiian sticky rice we’ve been subsisting on all week, enhanced by various combinations of vegetables and soy protein. Anyway, we knew there was no way we’d be able to get back home without eating dinner out at least once, and it had to be now or never.

There was an abundance of restaurants in our neighborhood, and many of them were enticing at first glance, bur none of their menus offered any meatless entrees, nothing that didn’t once run, fly or swim. None of these establishments seemed interested in stalking the wild tofu beast and bringing it to justice. But by some miracle we did stumble upon one place that offered a “kahuna burger”, which was a veggie burger prepared Hawaiian style — which means among other things that it was served with the obligatory pineapple. (The word “kahuna” has come, through surfer slang, to mean something like really cool dude, ace, etc. But originally it was a name for a shaman or wise man.) Lacking any other options, we opted for this one, and it turned out to be absolutely, positively, unequivocally not bad.

Once we’d eaten, we indulged in one more stroll about our neighborhood, which featured a Don Ho St., named in honor of the Hawaiian Elvis, the Big Kahuna of Polynesian Pop. Ho, who was of Hawaiian, Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch and German heritage, was born in Honolulu in 1930. After an international touring career that spanned many years, he came full circle by dying last year right here in Waikiki. How could they not name a street after him? And if you’re going to be born somewhere, you hardly could pick a better location. Come to think of it, the same could be said for dying.

We passed a shop that rented out bikes, both of the motorized and pedalized breeds. The bicycles were only $15 per day, which was much more reasonable than we’d expected, and in fact less than we shelled out on Cape Cod three years ago. Touring the island on two wheels would have been entirely feasible, if only we’d had the time. As it is, we have one more excuse to return here some day. Sigh.

Zephyr was possessed by the spirit of compulsory purchase to take home a souvenir of his own, being always dutifully on the lookout for more stuff with which to stuff the gaping voids in our 20-ft. RV. And he found just the ticket this time: a hand carved wooden mask approximating some deity from native folklore. It’s really quite a striking piece, but who knows when he’ll ever pull it out of its wraps. At the moment, he doesn’t have a thing to wear with it.

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With this new member of the family in tow, we were back in our room relatively early, and despite having had a day that was memorable for all the right reasons (except for being too short) there was an undeniable tinge of melancholy in the air.

Because tonight we start packing.

May 24, 2008: Honolulu to Seattle to Portland

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Penny postcards. Movies without commercials. Babe Ruth’s home run records. Free meals on airlines. Ally McBeal. InRadio. A fudgesicle in July. A week in Hawaii. Some things are just too good to last forever. Unfortunately, one of them was now coming to an end.

Although we’ve established that our room was not exactly luxurious, and we haven’t been spending much time in it except to sleep, it became a comfortable home for a few days, and we were reluctant to say goodbye to it. But we did, and we were reminded of that irrevocable cosmic law that the baggage for a return trip is always more cumbersome than the baggage you brought along to begin with. Suitcases have an inescapable habit of stuffing themselves fuller than full when they’re away from home. Nonetheless, we managed to lug our luggage down to the lobby to check out, then out to the bus stop, and haul it all onto the bus — and still have room to put ourselves on as well.

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When our plane lifted off, we at last had our paydirt vista of Diamond Head, a more inclusive view, no doubt, than we would have obtained by scaling the 99 steps to the crater’s rim. And at its base lay Waikiki Beach, heavily littered as usual with swimmers and surfers and sun worshipers. It was a difficult scene to leave behind; at the risk of sounding tiresome or namby-pamby, this place really is a sort of paradise. Sorry, but it’s hard to avoid using superlatives when you’re speaking of a superlative.

Aerial view of Waikiki Beach and Honolulu, Hawaii

We must, absolutely must come back here someday, and hopefully before it really does get developed to death. There’s still so much we want to see and do. There’s still that obligatory trek up to Diamond Head. There’s the Royal Palace. There are the privately operated submarines that carry you down to depths of over 100 feet for a closer look at the marine underworld. There are many other fine beaches to discover. There’s Kualoa Ranch. There is, Kimberly swears, a place where you can go sliding downhill in the mud. And of course, we’d love to return to some of the sites we visited this time, especially Hanauma Bay. And all of this, mind you, is on Oahu alone; there are five more islands still waiting for us!

When next we sighted land, it was almost 10 PM, although it didn’t seem nearly so late. We’d finally become acclimated to Hawaii time, just in time to leave it behind. And it wasn’t even dark yet, thanks to the long days of almost-summer, the archaic convention of daylight savings time, and the absence of any obstructions on the horizon to blot out the remaining rays of daylight.

The land mass rising up to meet us was the coast of Washington, rather than the coast of Oregon. There was no direct return flight to Portland available so we had to change planes in Seattle, which is like being dropped off on the corner instead of at your doorstep. We found ourselves quite disoriented on the approach; we turned left, which apparently meant we were approaching SeaTac from the south, but then we saw the familiar Seattle landmarks like the Space Needle, which are north of the airport. But in order to approach from the north by turning left, we would have had to make a full circle, which we’re certain we did not. Guess it’s a good thing we weren’t in the pilot’s seat.

Again we were on time, and we had only about half an hour to wait before the next departure. When we looked out the window of our boarding gate, we saw a twin-propeller plane, which gave me a bit of trepidation. As the undisputed captain of the white-knuckle flight brigade, I’ve been doing fine on the trip thus far; but I’ve never flown in a prop plane before (a term which, to a person involved in theatre, has an especially dubious sound). And I wasn’t exactly eager to go Casablanca-ing off into the fog this time.

But it was only a decoy. When we walked outside, we went around that plane to a jet of about the same size, emblazoned with University of Washington, and the logo of that school. Why were we borrowing their plane? We haven’t a clue, but it obviously wasn’t what UW uses to transport its football team. The overhead compartments were too tiny to hold anything larger than a lunchbox, so our large bags had to go under our feet, and our small bags on our lap, and our lap in our face. We felt like collapsible chairs.

Mercifully, the flight was over almost as soon as it began — literally. We’d hardly left the ground and climbed free of power lines when the cockpit announced that we were beginning our descent into Portland.

It was about a quarter to twelve when we exited the plane and dashed up to ground transportation level. The same shuttle driver who’d deposited us there a week earlier informed us that service back to the hotel officially ends at midnight, although in practice he generally made his final run a few minutes after. He was true to his word, and we were able to make it back before turning into pineapples — or before having to hire a taxi for a princely sum.

Our RV and trailer were right where we left them, and in the same condition. To our relief, the refrigerator had not grown a bumper crop of mildew, as we’d feared.

But we also had a room waiting for us upstairs, a comfortable, well-appointed room that we were more than ready to take advantage of. It was still 3 hours and one movie later, however, before we felt inspired to drag ourselves off to slumberland. Not only were our internal clocks out of joint, but we just had too many fresh, vivid memories to digest. A week in Hawaii doesn’t end as soon as you get back home.

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