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Hiking in Hawaii

January 3, 2015

What is it about travel that makes most of us so happy? My best vacations have always been the ones where I end up in the places most different than my typical surrounding. Staying active on a vacation is important to me. In addition to rewiring your mental fabric and obvious physical benefits, it helps me not feel as guilty when I inevitably pig out on new grub.

Couple of weeks ago, Kristina and I decided to go to Hawaii on a 1 week notice. We booked our flights and we were off to Oahu and Kauai for 10 days. Our plan was to fly into Oahu, spend the night there, take a short flight over to Kauai for 7 days and then spend the last 3 days at Waikiki in Oahu. We heard from friends that Kauai was a hiker’s paradise. That is an understatement.

When booking your hotels using sites like Priceline, make sure you receive an email confirmation. We realized as soon as we landed in Hawaii, at about 9 PM, that Priceline failed to make our hotel reservation. We tried to make a reservation at the nearest hotel because we had a flight to Kauai at 8 AM the next day. As luck would have it, the Honolulu Marathon was scheduled for the next morning and EVERY single hotel was booked. We ended up renting a car for the night. Drove around the city, “watched” Interstellar for the second time (ended up dozing for the most part), got some late night food and walked around Waikiki between 3 and 5 AM. It turned out to be quite cool as we saw marathoners from all over the world going over their marathon rituals, making their way to the marathon start point.

In Kauai, there is a lot to do in the north and the south ends of the island, so it makes most sense to book your hotel some place in the middle of the island, like Kapa’a which allows you to drive up or down depending on what you want to do. It takes about 80 mins to drive from one end of the island to the other.

We set out to do the 8 mile loop to Hanakapi’ai falls and it turned out to be the most beautiful place I had ever hiked. The first half mile into the hike, you are greeted with this view.

I would love to carry around my DSLR for such trips, but they end up being so bulky that I tend to prefer my phone. The end result is not fancy, but gets the job done. I clicked this and all the pictures here with my Nexus 5 phone without any filters. Standing there and looking far into the ocean makes you realize how far away from home you really are. I’m sure that what makes all of this so amazing is the novelty aspect.

Everywhere you look, the land gushed with greenery. Nature has a way of calming you down. Makes you more present. An escape from yourself.

Central Park is probably the greenest patch in Manhattan, and it has been landscaped by one of the best landscapers ever, but it doesn’t even come half as close to this “random” shot on the hike in terms of plain beauty.

Hawaii is said to have a variety of flora and fauna that the rest of the world doesn’t have because of how remote the islands are and also because of the more relatively recent formation of the islands. Here is an excellent explanation in a Khan Academy video of how the islands were formed.

A lot of the trail was alternating between hard rock and extremely slippery mud. There were places in the trial where one wrong step or a skid could result in a 1000 foot fall. Some parts of the trail are maintained with heavy logs, so people didn’t slip and roll but some parts were totally wild wild west. My shoes didn’t thank me after the hike. We saw a guy on our way down who was hiking barefoot and we looked at each other and decided that the guy was completely mental.

A hike like this makes you wonder if fatalities occur all the time and you just don’t hear about them. A picture along the trail confirmed this.

The bottom half of the warning illustrates the number of fatalities

We also saw an action movie style rescue mission of a guy caught in a rip current while swimming by the beach.

You’ll find many places like the photo below where the water from the waterfall ends up with the ocean. Reminds you of your 5th grade science class when you learned about the water table. A fun little challenge throughout the hike is crossing such rivers, hopping from stone to stone without getting your shoes wet. As you can imagine, easy to slip on those moss covered stones.

At the end of 2 miles, you reach Hanakapi’ai beach which I hear is the listed as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. The only way to get to it is by hiking the 2 miles because both ends of the beach are surrounded by giant hills that melt into the ocean.

As you go further up to the waterfall, you experience a ton more of the tropics, rivers to hop over, slippery mud and rainfalls that last for about 2 mins every 10 mins. We saw plenty of rainbows and some times even double rainbows.

We also spotted a wild kitty in the woods that was camouflaged nicely and a mouse that devoured cheese puffs on the ground.

After hiking for 2 more miles, you reach Hanakapi’ai Falls. The falls itself was nothing spectacular. Have seen better ones. All the more reinforcement that it is not about the destination but the journey.

We decided after this hike that we had to hike at least once a day in Kauai. On average, we were hiking about 6 to 8 miles and they were are all unique and amazing. If you ever plan on going to Kauai and want suggestions on stay, hike and food - hit me up.

We loved the Hanakapi’ai hike so much that that we went back to hike it again on our last day in Kauai. As we approached the hike, I was reminded of the guy who was hiking barefoot during our last visit. I didn’t think it was possible, but decided to give it a shot because of my recent obsession to differentiate between real limitations vs self-imposed limitations . This wouldn’t be one of my smartest decisions but was glad I went through with it.

I took a before and after expecting some significant damage but on the surface (the pun intended) my feet held up pretty well. The pictures in the middle show you parts of the trail made of dry sharp rocks and really muddy sharp rocks.

As it turns out, when you don’t wear any shoes, you start to notice the smallest pebbles on the ground. The lack of any grip doesn’t help in the slippery mud when going downhill. There were about ~50 times when I almost fell down and 2 times when I fell. You get used to the tiny knicks because of the sharp rocks after a point because your feet become numb. Hiking barefoot is a unique experience because you don’t spend too much time looking around you and instead mindfully focus on your next step. I won’t recommend going barefoot during your first hike on a trail, just because I wouldn’t want you to miss the incredible beauty around you. But if you have already hiked the trail before, why not have a more intimate experience with the ground beneath you?

If there is a paradise, I imagine it is like Kauai, but the thing is, you get used to it. At the end of 7 days, as much as I loved our time there, I was itching to go back. Among other things, was craving some intellectual stimulation. I’m sure that the grass is greener on the other side, but part of what makes these trips so amazing is the dosage they are served at. I didn’t believe that island fever applied to a place like Kauai but talking to the locals, they were far more interested in exploring New York City than staying in Kauai. I feel extremely fortunate and humbled by the opportunity to travel to these remote places, but, ironically, going away from home reminds you why you decided to pick your home where you did in the first place.

“The most obvious, ubiquitous, important realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and talk about.“ - David Foster Wallace

See the full essay for the quote above here.

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