To call my Max an adventurer would be largely understated. He thrives on discovering new treasures and going where few (or none) have gone before. You can see it in his face when he's getting ready for such an outing. He can barely contain his boyish excitement, and you can see his mind teeming with possibilities. It's quite contagious actually.
Yesterday we explored a place he's been wanting to explore for over a year. They call it the "Shangri La" of Kauai. Now, anywhere in Kauai could be considered Shangri La, if you ask me, but this place was different. I think part of the excitement of it (or anything, for that matter) was the journey to get there. And, as with most things, the harder the journey, the sweeter the reward.
It was one of those things where I had no idea what I was getting myself into, and it was probably better that way. I'm happy I did it, but I'm even happier to be done with it :)
I should have been alerted at the fact that you have to drive 4 miles on insane terrain to even get to the trailhead, but I wasn't. I thought it would be like any other hike in Kauai: hot, possibly a little muddy, and a strenuous workout. If only it were just those things. Firstly, I was not dressed for the occasion.
Here I am, totally clueless, thinking I was smart to wear swimsuit-ish hiking clothes as I was warned we would be getting a little wet. What I should have been wearing was a full-on waterproof, mud-proof, scratch-proof (and possibly glow in the dark) body suit. Gotta get me one of those...
The first part of the hike was pleasant. We crossed a couple streams, picked some guavas and raspberries, and enjoyed the lush green earth which encapsulated us. We only encountered 3 other people along the trail; a guy setting up for a search and rescue course, and another brave couple on their way down after camping overnight...but even they didn't make it to Shangri La.
It wasn't until we started trudging uphill that I realized my fate. The trail got narrower, muddier, and much more overgrown. My legs and arms were being scratched by razor-like ferns with every step and the branches would snag my hair and backpack as I crawled, scrambled, and tore my way through the brush. Every 50 feet or so we'd walk through slippery mud up to our shins, and I almost lost a shoe on more than one occasion. It was easily the hardest hike I have ever been on. I tried my best to stay positive seeing as Max had waited so long to do it, but it was impossible not to feel a little frustrated at times.
I didn't take photos of the hard parts, partially because I would have looked miserable, but more so because there was no way I could have even got to the camera. But. This is what I looked like after emerging from the first of several difficult sections. Max had to force the smile on my face.
There was a whole lot more of that before we finally made it to the first tunnel, but that is where my mood changed. These tunnels were built almost 100 years ago to divert water down through the center of the island for sugar cane production. They have since been abandoned but are still a remarkable sight to see. Perfectly straight, mile-long, man-made caves dug right through the mountain. It was impossible not to think of the years and years of labor those men (and possibly women) spent for something only to be forgotten before the end of the century. It was so eery being inside the tunnel with only a pin hole of light on the other end, promising and eventual exit. The water was thigh-deep and very muddy at parts and I couldn't help but think of what could be lurking inside. It also didn't help that Max kept mentioning that it would be the perfect place to film a horror movie. There's a reason I don't watch horror movies...
After trudging through the first tunnel, we stopped and ate a short, but much needed lunch, before crossing a few more streams, waterfalls, a perfect camping spot, and into the second tunnel.
Upon exiting the second tunnel we saw what we had sacrificed our bodies for. This was it, Shangri La. And oh how magnificent it was. I'll let the pictures tell the rest.
We freshened up in the falls and wondered at the beauty and stillness of this place. We were miles and miles from any other human beings and forgot for a second the traumatic journey we had just endured. We didn't have long, as the sun was quickly descending and the rain clouds were moving in. We were just heading out when Max saw it; tunnel number 3. They failed to mention it in the guidebook and Max couldn't resist checking it out. I bent down to empty my shoe of rocks and before I looked up, he was gone--off to explore the tunnel. He emerged a few minutes later with a huge grin on his face and a vow to return to this place and give tunnel number 3 it's due credit.
Hopefully I will have healed by then...