I had dreamed of that place several times. The picture was imprinted in my head and now it stood before me and as though I woke up from the reverie and behold! A small open straw-hut, supported by 4 logs of wood stood alone down a stony path. On either side was the vast expanse of turquoise water, that caught the sun’s rays and seemed to reflect a brighter glow. Above the lilting water was another vast expanse of blue with a slightly different shade. I gazed with wonder at the faint horizon that seemed to overlap the two planes. The silent glass like surface, except for an occasional wave or two stood still and there and then, so did time.
Suddenly, I heard a high pitched scream. It was a child. I look around in alarm only to find a little girl in her bright green swimsuit emerge from the water, beaming at her mother who sat on the beach and gave a casual glance at the girl.
The sun beamed upon the 2 mile long coast , casting giant shadows of the 15-storey hotels that stood to the east. Shades of red, green, pink and yellow dotted the white sand, forming a chaotic backdrop against the uncaring, unending blue expanse. The sound of the surf formed a background chatter to the shrill shrieks of children and the periodic “thomp” heard when little boys plunged into the water from the boardwalk. Surfers chased the waves a few yards from the shore, men and women lay on the beach, oblivious to all hustle and bustle around them. Waikiki beach attracts over 4 million tourists every year, making it one of the most famous beaches in the world.
Later that day criss-crossing the multi-faceted coral reefs , eager to catch sight of any passing turtle that might dare to reveal himself and pointing excitedly to each other when an occasional giant fish (and on one occasion , a fish that actually contained a rainbow in itself- for it refracted all the colours of light) swam by casually, we rendered ourselves somewhat troublesome to the inhabitants at the snorkeling grounds of Hanauma Bay.
By evening, we were driving into the mountains in the light rain. As we got closer and closer to the hill, we saw tiny dots of white, red and blue inching up the path, and from the distance, the dots looked like an army of tiny ants making their way up patiently, gathering and storing food. We were excited about this hike. The view from the top was supposed to one of the best in the region. We planned to descend a little after watching the sun set.
It was a giant monolith hill contained what was once part of a tramway installed to transport army personnel and supplies to the top.The hike is a straight slog up a 1,208-foot-high volcanic tuff cone, which is light and porous rock created by volcanic explosions. The 1,048 steps are actually old wooden tramway ties that hikers use to scale the mountain, although many are uneven and slippery.Due to the increasing numbers of rescues on the Koko Crater Stairs, the path is now called “Stairmaster from Hell” .
We knew nothing of this when we got to the foot of the hill. When we saw that the path was actually a railroad track, we looked at each other in mild surprise. A railroad going up all the way to the top ? We assumed it would be an easy ascent and bounded up the ‘starirway’ stepping on the ties. As we got higher the stairs grew steeper and taller. Looking back we could see the ocean surrounded by deep green mountains on one side, a small valley between them nestling a town. About a third of our way up, the track ahead looked almost vertical now and so narrow in some parts that a person ascending would have to step off the tracks onto the bushes to let the person descending pass by. One can find people of all ages on this hike . Men and women carried their toddlers in their baby slings, 60 yr olds determinedly walked up, panting; A man even climbed carrying a dog in his backpack ! We stopped along our tracks to pet the dog and take pictures of him. When we looked down, we not only marvelled at the panoramic view of the grey ocean and the city lighting up to the dusk but also at the path we came up -a steep 3 feet monster of a railroad at almost 60 degrees inclination.
We trod up the hill, carefully stepping on the ties, wary of the slippery wood, but thrilled nevertheless. Suddenly the ground beneath the ties vanished.The mid section of the hike , almost 200 ft of it bridges a ravine! All that stood between the part of the hill we already came up and the rest of the hill in front of us was the railroad. The open gap below was 50 ft deep. People gasped and slowly stepped on the ties now at an angle of over 50 degrees. A single slip would have you plummeting down the ravine. With nothing to hold on to with my hands, the thought of crossing the bridge made me shudder and the exhilaration gave way to gnawing fear. Both below and above me stood the now daunting steep railroad tapering to a thin line at the summit.
I gaped open mouthed as one man ran down this part of the railroad, his footsteps perfectly in sync with the ties. A boy not more than 4 years old held his father’s hand and gingerly stepped on the ties, one of a time, stopping every 4 or 5 steps to catch his breath. It struck me how a child knows no fear, as he is too young to imagine and conjure the possibilities and consequences in his mind of what might result from a slip. As the man with the dog approached this section of the trail, the dog looked around, blissfully unaware of the ravine, probably just a little surprised at his sudden unpopularity as people walked past ignoring him, with fear on their faces. At this part of the hike, looking up and down were both scary. I had nowhere to go but up, as heading down without seeing the view and the sunset was not an option for us.
We took a deviation and headed up the bushy trail and merged back on the railroad for the last leg of the hike. When we finally reached the top, as philosopher Joseph Campbell said “when we are transfixed by beauty we are held in a kind of ecstatic arrest”, we were truly transfixed by one of those views very few people get to see very few times in their lives. I had never seen an ocean from so high up. The white surf produced by the deep blue waters washed on the shores, the very shores enveloped by towering green mountains on all sides. And there, we stood until the sun set, stealing us of the breathtaking view below. Night well when we descended and as we neared our car, we were met by an astonishingly large gathering of cats at a clearing. Atleast 30 pairs of fiery golden eyes followed us as we drove back to the apartment.
The city lights glowed like embers in the black night as I looked down from the window of our room, letting the cool breeze float gracefully past my face. Waikiki was alive that night with the cheerfully loud and vivid Thanksgiving parades. Scores of school children dressed in their best uniforms proudly showcased their newly acquired talents of trumpeting, bag-piping or on many occasions, simply siting atop a car waving at the crowd. From up above, I could see the shimmering lights of the station wagons, and hear the blaring horns playing victorious tunes, as if to commensurate with all the splendid things this island had to offer.