Back into the craziness Kathmandu and it wasnt long before I was wishing I was still high in the mountains where it was a bit cooler and quieter! Kathmandu is a dusty, hot jumble of people, motorbikes and stray dogs. After being in a car-free environment for almost two weeks, it was a bit of shock to be launched back into the busy streets of Thamel. However the access to a hot shower, comfy beds and decent food was happily welcomed!
There was a few people in the group that were sticking around Kathmandu for a couple of days after we returned so we took delight in celebrating with very Western food and lots of it! After a relaxing day in our swanky final hotel of the trip (Traditional Comfort, if you ever want to lash out in Kathmandu, this place it where to go!) a group of us headed into Old Kathmandu for a wander. Opting against getting a guide, we made our own way into the old city centre, venturing towards Durbar Square, albeit very slowly!
Old Kathmandu and Durbar Square is a busy quarter of the city, were family dwellings of all shapes and sizes (and homemade-extension types) knock out the sunlight, shop fronts spill out onto the street and street stalls selling everything from vegetables to motorbike parts clog the walkway. The old city is constructed on a fundamental building called bahal – which is a set of buildings joined at right angles around a central courtyard. This building style honeycombs the entire city, joining almost everyone together. Many of these bahal’s were originally Buddhist monasteries but have now been reverted for residential use. The streets were lined with a tangle of black power lines, some hanging so low you had to duck. Being an electrician in this country would be a nightmare! The effect of the 2015 earthquake was still very present here, buildings were crumbling at the edges and constructions sites were everywhere – most looked like they’d been classed as ‘too hard’ and just left to sit and disintegrate.
We spent a good majority of our time wandering up and down dusty streets, getting lost amongst the bahal and dodging rickshaws. As the only Westerners around, we were in the spotlight and locals stared at us from windows, shop fronts and even on passing motorbikes. The streets were tiny lanes, jam packed full of different shops and people. It was an ‘every man for themself’ situation. With locals pushing and shoving to get on their way, we had to do the same. Being tall and blonde had it perks, as locals stopped to stare they created an opening for me to duck through and be on my way.
Wandering for a couple of hours we finally came across Durbar Square. Hunger took over our need to explore and we found a rooftop cafe in the corner of Durbar Square to munch down some veggie burgers before exploring on. To enter Durbar Square and the surrounds it cost 1000 rupees (about AUD$13) which was quite expensive to see the centre of the old town. This money was supposed to go to earthquake reconstruction funds, however the lack of reconstructing going on, it was hard to believe that was the case. Nonetheless, we paid for our ticket and headed in.
Without a guide we wandered around trying to give ourselves a self guided tour from a Lonely Planet book. As it was the middle of the day, it was hot and not ideal to be playing tourist in so we headed to the shady street (in more ways than one) known more commonly as Freak Street. This street was infamous in the 60’s and 70’s where it was a highlight on the backpacker hippie trail. The draw card to this particular street was the government-run hashish shops. Hippies from all over the world flocked to Freak Street for easily accessible cannabis and hash and it became a hippie nirvana until the early 1970s when the government decided to clean up of the area. Nowadays the hash and cannabis has been replaced by trekking and cultural tourism and hippies have been replaced by hikers and more spiritually inclined. As we wandered down the street, there was little renmant of this so-called hippie nirvana, bar one or two cannabis stores. It was fascinating to think that this part of the city, who now goes to bed early, was once a major pot-fest. We passed one or two dreadlocked, wrinkly old Westerners sat on shop front stairs covered in tie-dye and a glazed look out their eyes but mostly it was Chinese tourists taking photos. I’m sure those guys had a few wild stories to tell – if they could remember it!
With the heat getting to us a little, we found refuge in a rooftop cafe and ordered iced coffees to perk us up. Below us, the bustle of the old city never stopped. Between locals trying to sell their goods, to bus loads of tourists being suckered into buying them – it was in a constant state of motion. You could sit and watch all day and never get bored. We were waiting until 4:15pm when nearby a living goddess would be showing her face from her balcony. A tourist ploy, perhaps? But we were going to wait and find out.
In Nepal there is a tradition of worshipping pre-pubescent girls as manifestations of the divine female energy in Hindu religious traditions. The Kumari – as she is called – is a young girl selected from the Newari community in Nepal. While we were first told there is only one living goddess Kumari, it turns out there’s actually a few around the country. However we were seeing the Royal Kumari who apparently was the most important. As the Kumari has to be a pre-pubescent girl, she changes quite regularly due to the girls growing up. There has been 14 Royal Kumaris since the 1920’s, each who have passed the vigourious selection process.
Potential Kumaris must be in excellent health, have never shed blood, been affiliating with any diseases, possess certain physical qualities such as a body like a bayan tree and eyelashes like a cow. She must have very black hair and eyes, dainty hands and feet and show signs of fearlessness and serenity. If she passes all that, then the candidate must go through tests, such as showing no fear in a candlelit room full of heads of animals sacrificed in her honour and spend a night alone with them. If the candidate gets through this far, she then has to correctly pick out the belongings of the previous Kumari. If she is unsuccessful, the whole process is done again until the new Kumari is found. Can I just add that the candidates could be as young as 3 years old..
It all seemed a little airy fairy for me but I went along for the spectacle simply to say I’ve witnessed a living goddess. We were in good company too as the small courtyard from which the Kumari’s balcony is situated was jam-packed full of people. The power of the Kumari is perceived to be so strong that even just a glimpse of her is believed to bring good fortune. I was hoping they were right because I could really do with a good fortune right about now, but I have a feeling she wouldn’t be throwing money out her balcony window. We weren’t allowed to take photos of the Kumari so I won’t even have proof of the time I saw a living goddess.
4pm rolled around and myself and about one hundred other people squashed into the tiny courtyard waiting for the divine Kumari to appear. Being on time clearly wasnt a prerequisite for being a living goddess as it was another few minutes before she showed her face. Finally a young girl appeared in a red and gold dress, her face pale with make-up and eyes heavily painted with eyeliner. She stared at us for moments, directly staring us three Aussie girls mainly – a trio of Caucasians in a room full of Chinese – before disappearing back into the darkness. It was a fleeting visit and the only thing I could think of was how sad she looked, staring out at a room full of tourists. I didn’t blame her though, she would do the same thing everyday. Same room, different people. Even a living goddess can’t escape the mundane parts of a job.
We left the Old Town, feeling not quite like we’d been blessed with good fortune but time will tell. We headed back into Thamel where we split up to refresh ourselves before meeting again for dinner at possibly the best, albeit most touristy restaurant in town, OR2K.
OR2K is an Israeli-run vegetarian restaurant, which serves up delicious food and more importantly, vegetables! I have been craving fresh veggies since the trek were white potato and cabbage were the best I could come up with. We gorged ourselves on falafel platters and hummus, before topping it all off with a hot chocolate soufflé pudding which actually may have been the best thing I’ve ever eaten! Oh and espresso martinis! Yes they had delicious espresso martinis for less than AUD$4! I was in love with this place! Definitely coming back here. I hadn’t eaten that much food in one sitting since Christmas and felt like I had to be rolled out of the joint, we definitely outdid ourselves on the food front but it was absolutely delicious.
Tomorrow C, B and myself are heading out of the city to explore Kathmandu valley. But now its time for a hummus-induced food coma to commence!
After a lazy start by yours truly, I checked out of the Cozy Hostel and headed into the main square of Puno in search of coffee. I had a few hours to kill before my bus to Copacabana left so I wandered the streets of Puno and found a café to spend some time in.
Around 1:30pm I headed to the bus station with some others from the hostel and found my bus to Copacabana. It was only a 3 hour journey through the Peruvian countryside and I actually managed to stay awake for the entire journey for once. We reached the border of Peru and Bolivia and were all herded out of the bus and put through customs. It was an uneventful affair, but hilarious as they make you walk up the hill to the Bolivian border while the bus to drives straight on through. As i stepped into Bolivia and I was super excited to add another stamp to my passport but as I was travelling alone, I had no-one to share the moment with. Sadface 😦
The drive into Copacabana took another 15 minutes and before I could stash my belongings back in my bag I was being ushered off the bus and onto the street. It was nearly sunset and I still had to find my hostel. ‘Safety-first Jess’ had pre-booked a hostel online because she didn’t want to roam the streets at dark in search of a bed and because her parents 10,000km away would worry. It seemed like a good idea in theory however after passing a couple of other hostels on the way to mine, I was paying way, way too much for it! Patting ‘Safety-first Jess’ on the back, I forked over the credit card and called it a luxury treat. Then I converted it back to Aussie dollars and realised I was only paying about $30 for a private room, so I didn’t feel so bad.
Settling into my own room (I had two beds!) I promptly flung open the curtains, took off my bra, emptied my bag on the floor and watched the sun set over the water. This private room business wasn’t so bad after all! Hunger kicked in within 10 minutes so I changed clothes and headed out to explore the little town of Copacabana.
I’m gonna be the first to admit it, I did initially think that this Copacabana was the one infamous for parties and glorious beaches and had that irritatingly catchy song written after it. Though I was quickly mistaken as learnt that the famous Copacabana was the beach in Rio, not Bolivia. Ahh well.. The Bolivian Copacabana was a little seaside hippy town that’s main purpose was the starting point for those travelling to Isla Del Sol. It’s laid-back vibe is alluring and before you know you’re running on Bolivian time, not really worrying about a thing. I found dinner at a little cafe and then headed back to my private room ready for a solid night of sleeping.
The following morning I slept late again (see Copacabana does relax you!) and reluctantly packed my gear up and changed to a cheaper hostel. This hostel wasn’t quite as fancy as the other one but I had a twin room sharing with another girl for a mere $5AUD per night – can’t complain with that!
I spent the day wandering around Copacabana and just generally chilling out. It had been ages since I’d had a lazy day so it was lovely to just hang out and do my own thing. Late in the afternoon I met a trio of travellers (Alex, Lottie and Matthias) also staying at the hostel so we went out to dinner and organized a trip to Isla Del Sol for the following day. I had the most delicious garlic trout that topped the trout I had on Isla Taquile easily. Bolivian cooking was turning out to be better than I expected!
The following morning we woke early and grabbed breakfast before jumping on the boat to Isla Del Sol. This island – which translates to Island of the Sun in English – is the largest island on Lake Titicaca and has no motorized traffic. It took about an hour and a half to get there but it felt way longer. The boat was going so slow I reckon I could have swum faster than it! But the views were spectacular. The sapphire coloured water shimmered in the sunlight and in the distance we could see snowy peaks. I may have lost it a little bit, snowy mountains are still a huge novelty for me – I can’t get enough of them!
We reached the south of the island and paid our 5 Bolivanos to enter the island and off we set on our hike. We planned to hike across the island to the north side, which was about 8km, and then stay the night. The north side was supposed to be the better place but after seeing the south it had some stiff competition! The start of the hike was an absolute killer – stairs after stairs after stairs, however once we reached the top we were rewarded with a killer view! The lake was absolutely glorious and there was hardly a cloud in the sky, it was a perfect day for a stroll.
It took us about three hours to get to the north side. We passed small villages, lots of sheep and lots of beautiful views. I think my favourite was the last part of the hike as we hiked down towards to the north side. The white rocks glowed under the hot sun and made the water seem even bluer. As we got down towards the small town of Cha’llapampa it seemed a little quiet and desolate. After the stories we’d been hearing about how the north side was amazing, we were a little disheartened to find not much happening there. Plonking ourselves down by the beach – which was pretty gorgeous – we took off our shoes and rested our weary feet. Matthias jumped in to test the water whereas the three of us girls settled for sunbaking by the shore. While it wasn’t quite what we expected, it was still lovely to just chill out by the water.
Deciding to head back to Copacabana we just made the last boat leaving the north side. It took an hour to reach the south side where we had to stop for an hour before making the journey back to the mainland. Taking the opportunity for lunch on the south side we had quinoa soup and chicken before jumping back on the boat. Another slow (very slow) boat ride back and we were in Copacabana in time for the sunset. Grabbing a couple of cervezas, we perched up in the sunroom of our hostel and watched the sky turn from light to dark.
Tomorrow we’ve off to La Paz! I’ve wanted to go to this city for so long so I’m super excited!
Every city needs a neighbourhood where the creative folk gather, where opinions are expressed on street walls and the best bars and cafes exist. In Lima, this neighbourhood is called Barranco and it is every bit as bohemian and artsy as they say.
This groovy part of town is better shown through pictures than words, so ladies and gentlemen… Meet Barranco.
Lima is a bustling city full of things to see and do. It’s sad because it often gets overlooked by its more popular neighbour Cusco, but what people are missing are the hidden things that takes time to discover.
I’d been in Lima for a few days and was starting to get a feel for my area Miraflores. This was the fancy, well-developed area of Lima – the rich persons holiday destination you could say. It perched on the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean and was a popular place for surfers, para-gliders and sun bakers alike. Though Miraflores can lead you into a false sense of how Lima really is. It doesn’t feel like a South American city as its safe, relatively orderly and clean. However as an introduction to Peru for yours truly, it was perfect.
As I had two weeks in the city, I took my time ticking off the tourist attractions. It was a nice way to travel especially after the super busy time in Hawaii. One night when I didn’t have to work, I went with some new friends from the hostel to the Parque de la Reserva to see the Guinness Book of Records largest water fountain complex – Circuito Mágico del Agua.
The circuit consists of 13 different water fountains which come alive at night and change colour schemes continuously. Founded by the mayor of Lima, Dr. Luis Castańeda Lossio, this project was controversial due to the huge sum of money it cost to create. Over 13 million dollars was spent to reconstruct the park – which also caused drama because the park is considered historically significant. However over 2 million people have visited the park and the money made from the entrance fees to the park have gone towards re-opening the Municipal Theatre of Lima so criticism has been swiftly shut down.
Walking around the park its hard not to be impressed with the sheer extragvagence of it all. The largest fountain, the 120m-long Fuente de la Fantasía (Fantasy Fountain) is mesmerising as it shoots water high into the air and changes colour from yellow to pink to blue. While the park probably is more targeted to families, we still had a blast here. The group favourite was definitely the water fountain tunnel which you could walk through. Of course the idea is to not get wet, but we did. It was too hard to resist!
We spent over an hour in the park which was more than enough time to see the entire circuit. Afterwards we went in search for dinner nearby and came across an outdoor food market. We found a spare table and ordered the special on the menu plus bulk cervezas and proceeded to talk a lot of shit. We were random bunch, two English, a Canadian, a Kiwi, a Dutch and an Aussie but the banter was endless. Our food arrived and we hooked in, devouring the delicious meat that was unidentifiable. After demolishing the whole platter, we asked the waitress what kind of meat we had just eaten and she said cow and pointed to her stomach. After some confusion we realised we had just eaten cow intestines! Cue grossed out looks and big gulps of beer! Ah nothing like trying new things!
After digesting the cows intestines we caught a cab back to Dragonfly Hostel and walked to a club down the street which was supposedly really good. Walking into the main area it took about two minutes to realise we had walked straight into a gay bar. Flamboyant looking men were twerking way better than I ever could and as six Caucasian tourists, we stood out like a dogs hind leg! Not worried in the slightest we bought Pisco sours and kept them flowing, dancing the night away. It was a hilarious and fun night and one of the reasons why I love travel. You could start your evening playing in water fountains and end up dancing in a gay bar.
We left Joe’s early ready for another day of exploring the coast of Maui. This part of the island was often bypassed because the road is a bit unstable for a few kilometres and can void a rental car agreement if an accident occurs. Also, the ‘tourist’ way to go is to drive to Hana and back in one day, but that is the silliest idea since canned cheese. You hardly see anything! A local told us that the road was okay to drive, especially with a Jeep. I for one, am so glad we decided to drive it – it ended up being one of the most incredible drives I’ve been on.
Our first stop was at the Barefoot café in Hana Bay for breakfast – which was more like a little canteen by the water. The thing about Hana is that not many tourists stay the night to experience the sleepy seaside town. While mostly the reason is because most people only make it a day trip, it could have something to do with the locals. They tend to give off a vibe of not wanting tourists there which is understandable, but it was such a change from the rest of Hawaii where the locals are so warm and welcoming. Apart from the chilly reception at the café, the pancakes were the absolute bomb. Three massive pancakes drowned in syrup were exactly what my waistline didn’t need but I had to indulge anyway!
Our mission for the morning was to find the elusive red sand beach. We’d consulted the ever so trusty Google to help us find Kaihalulu Beach, which seemed to be this mystery bay that was impossible to get to. However after the very over the top advice about the Stairway to Heaven, we were a little hesitant to believe what Mr Google had to say. According to Google, the hike to Kaihaluu Beach was quite slipper, steep and could be…wait for it…fatal! DAH DAH DAHHHH!
Alright, I’ll honest here. The track to Kaihalulu Beach is not fatal, not that steep and only a tiny bit slippery. Mr. Cautious must have written the warnings because honestly it was a five minute walk around the edge of the not-very-high cliff to the bay. We parked on Uakea Road right near the Hana Community Centre and walked across the green lawn to the well worn path down to the water. Taking a left we walked along the track (okay its a bit slippery here due to the red cinder cones) which led us right around to the beautiful bay. I’ve read a dozen websites stating that this hike is so scary, so dangerous and potentially fatal. I can’t tell whether some people are just overcautious or downright unadventurous. Obviously use some common sense – if its raining don’t go – but the hike isn’t difficult, you wouldn’t even call it a hike!
The bay itself was glorious. The dark red sand – caused by lava cinder cliffs – make the water appear a PhotoShop-like turquoise. Kaihalulu Beach ain’t got no time for filters, it woke up like this. We raced down to the sand and stripped down to our swimmers. The bay was supposed to be a nudist beach but the few other people that were there were clothed so we followed suit. Walking across the red sand was a strange sensation in itself, this beach is one of few red sand beaches in the world and it felt like no other sand I’ve felt before. The water was cool and refreshing and we spent the next hour snorkelling around the bay.
Remembering we had a whole day of driving to do, we reluctantly walked back around the trail to the Jeep and drove off to our next stop. Like yesterday we were pretty much just jumping in without a plan so when we came across our next stop, it was the best surprise! Still in our swimmers from the beach we found another massive waterfall. No idea what it was called, but it wasn’t far from Hana. Jumping out of the Jeep for a look, I noticed a track beside the bridge that was just calling my name. Walking town the track to the base of the waterfall, it took a moment of hesitation before I was in the frigid fresh water. Not long after K and L followed and we splashed about in the freezing water and washed the salt from our bodies. There was a ledge at the bottom of the waterfall you could sit on and let the water rush over your head. It was awesome!
Numb from the cold, we jumped back in the Jeep to continue our journey – we were barely 10km out of Hana! We didn’t get much further before we reached the Pools of ‘Ohe’o (aka The Seven Sacred Pools) which apparently was a stop not to be missed.
Pulling into the car park we paid our 15$ and went for an explore. Deciding to hike uphill first we trekked through the rainforest on the Pipiwai Trail, following the lush greenery for half an hour or so. There is a Waimoku waterfall at the end of this trail but we were cutting it fine with the time so we headed back down towards the beach and the pools.
I’m going to be honest here again. The Seven Sacred Pools weren’t THAT fantastic. It could have been the combination of the lack of rain and the masses of people (even at 10am in the morning!) but the sacredness of the pools weren’t apparent. I think the waterfalls we had seen this morning and yesterday easily triumphed the pools, but each to their own. It is one of the highlight stops of the Road to Hana trip but I guess its all about the timing.
We left the pools a little downcast, but finally on track to get some driving done. Within kilometres we reached the infamous dirt road and suddenly understood why rental car companies don’t like it. The road is so windy, full of potholes and very narrow. In saying this, in a Jeep it was fantastic! The views were unbelievable and the closeness to the edge of the cliff was crazy. It was a slow journey on the road but an awesome on – and if you’re feeling bad for driving your rental car on there, don’t. Behind us was a Mercedes convertible that obviously missed the memo about not driving the road.
As we drove the scenery changed dramatically from the lush rainforest to a desolate volcanic landscape. The sky greyed and dark clouds threatened to bomb us with rain, but it made our surroundings look even more eerie. This side of Maui was so, so different to the rest of the island. The volcanic rocks stood hauntingly along the coastline and the dry grass swayed in the wind. It was such a shock to see how different this part of the island was, Maui was the place that just keeps giving!
We made a pit stop at Kaupo Store, which was this old fashioned general store full of knick knacks and historic paraphernalia. We grabbed some snacks and headed off again. The sky had darkened some more and within minutes the rain started to spit down. Of course, we had the top off the Jeep, because views, so after finding a safe place to park, we executed the quickest roof change known to man! Safe and dry we drove on, eyes glued to the cowboy-town like scenery.
Reaching Makawao just after lunch time we were absolutely ravenous. It was still drizzling with rain and the infamous cowboy town didn’t have the same appeal as we’d hoped. In our state of hunger all we wanted was mass food and pronto. Luckily, we didn’t have to go to far until we found Polli Polli’s Mexican. Stuffing ourselves with a feast of Mexican, the hangryness disappeared and we felt like our normal selves again. Now ready to have a better look around, we wandered the streets of Makawao. It was a very touristy town, full of boutiques and art galleries.
By late afternoon we were in the Jeep again and en route to Wailuku where we were staying at the Banana Bungalow again. After swimming at beaches, in waterfalls and getting caught in the rain I was so keen for a shower and rest.
Its our last day in Maui tomorrow so we have big plans to tick off a few more things! Stay tuned! 🙂
After our monumental hike, we had to hightail back to Waikiki to drop off our Jeep and go to the airport to catch our flight to Maui. Fuelled by coffee, we managed to get to Waikiki in record time and after doing a few circles in search of a fuel station we said goodbye to our little Jeep and got a taxi to the airport.
Everything was going smoothly until I checked my phone case where I had stashed my bank card and lo and behold, the stupid thing was missing. In the rush I had thrown it in my phone case, despite the case being broken and hadn’t thought about it since. After a mild panic we worked out it would still be possible for me to get money out using K’s card so I could keep it until I got a new card sent over from Australia. Panic over we waited for our flight in the tiny airport and caught our breath after racing around all morning.
The flight to Maui was quick and full of beautiful views. We had barely finished ascending before the pilot started to get ready for landing. Arriving into Maui, the landscape was very different to Oahu. It seemed more dry and arid, with lone palm trees swaying in the wind. There was a haze in the sky, which we later learnt was called vog – aka volcanic fog – and would pollute the skies for most of the day. We picked up our new Jeep – a beautiful cherry red one – and headed off in the direction of Wailuku where we were staying for the night.
The drive was short and before we knew it, we were pulling up at our hostel, the Banana Bungalow ready to check in. The Banana Bungalow was a typical fun hostel. Brightly coloured, with posters about free tours and places to go lining the walls. There was also an awesome back drop of a huge mountain that loomed behind the houses. We dropped our bags off, checked out the place and had a quick shower and went out in search of food.
The guys at the hostel recommend a little vegetarian café a couple of blocks away called The Farmacy, which sounded perfect after eating solid junk food for the last couple of days. We ordered some veggie burgers and wolfed them down. I was starving; we hadn’t eaten since we left Kaneohe this morning which was a rare feat. After a quick stroll around the town we headed back to the hostel for a sneaky nap. Wailuku itself doesn’t have a whole lot going for it, but it’s a great base because it’s in the middle of everything. We planned our activities for the next day and joined the free beer and burger night that the hostel was holding. This was the first night that we were at a really social hostel so it was nice to meet some new people. We ended up grabbing more drinks once the keg rain out and played flip cup with our new friends until late.
Waking up with slightly sore heads, we were slow to get ready for the day. Heading back to The Farmacy for breakfast, we had the most delicious acai bowls and smoothies. I say the most delicious with a bit of bias, because it was actually the first acai bowl I’ve ever had. But it was great to eat something healthy and fulfilling.
We drove off in the direction of Pai’a, which was a whole 25-minute drive away. Dropping our gear off at our next hostel, the Aloha Surf Hostel we realised we were living the life our luxury in our private room. The Aloha Surf Hostel is run by the same owners, but is much more nicer than the Banana Bungalow. We dwelled in our lush new room before continuing on with our day.
Driving another half an hour or so, we reached Kihei where we were planning to spend the afternoon. Kihei was a beautiful area, with dark blue water and that soft white sand. A popular resort area, the place was packed with people holidaying and living the life of leisure. We found a park near to the water and found some paddleboards to rent.
It was only my second time paddleboarding, but it was much easier than the first. I guess because I wasn’t so nervous about falling in. We paddled around the bay, past all the snorkelers and out in the open water in hope that we might see some humpback whales. There had been stories about people encountering the whales as they did their yearly migration but unfortunately we missed seeing them. We floated about on the paddle boards for awhile, enjoying the gentle sway of the ocean and appreciating the vog that covered the harsh sun. After awhile, a boat sailed past us and the men in the boat were doing the universal hand signals for shark. Jumping to our feet we paddled as quickly as we could to shore, we weren’t sure if they actually meant shark but we weren’t ones to risk it!
Deciding to pass on being shark bait, we returned the boards and went for a wander to find some lunch. Coming across a very appealing looking fish and chip shop, we ordered way more than we needed and walked over to a grassy area near the water to devour our feast. It was too nice of an afternoon – we ate, sunbaked and slept in the shade of the beach park. Too chilled out to do anything we didn’t move until about 4:30pm.
Finally deciding to move, we jumped back in the Jeep and drove to Pai’a for a look around. The little surfy town had a similar vibe to Byron Bay. Laidback, a little hippy and full of boutique type stores, we wandered the streets until the sun went down. Heading back to the hostel, we relished in the fact we had our own private room and made ourselves right at home. Within five minutes, our many bags were spread out from wall to wall. We certainly had a knack for making a mess!
We showered and did some washing before walking back down the street to the main part of Pai’a for some dinner. During our walk, we came across the Flatbread Company, which was a wood-fire pizza restaurant. The other restaurants didn’t even get a look in, we were sold on the delicious sounding flatbreads. It seemed the entire town had the same idea and we had to wait 25 minutes for a table. Walking over to a bar, the girls grabbed a drink while I sipped a lemon, lime and bitters, because clever old me didn’t bring her I.D out. I get so used to never having to use it anymore that I forget to bring it with me. Unfortunately the drinking laws are much stricter here and if you don’t have your I.D, you don’t drink.
K and L finished their drinks and we walked back over to the Flatbread Company. The place had quietened down only slightly as we were escorted to our table. Placing our orders, we waited in anticipation as we watched the chefs expertly put the fires in and out of the hot woodfire oven.
As expected, the pizzas (sorry, flatbreads) were absolutely delicious. The base was light and fluffy and the toppings were fresh and flavoursome. Definitely impressed with the food so far in Maui, it was looking to be a delicious couple of days!
Tomorrow we had big plans to start our Road to Hana journey so we headed back to the hostel for a good nights sleep in our flash private room. It was a tough life!
Disclaimer: This hike is illegal to do in Oahu. To reach the Stairway to Heaven you have to trespass on government property. While people still continue to climb the stairs, if you are caught there is a chance you will be fined. I, in no way condone this activity… However I thoroughly recommend it.
I watched the clock on my phone change from 2:54am to 2:55am and shut off the alarm before it even began buzzing. It was the first of three alarms I had set in fear that I would sleep through them. A useless precaution, I had barely slept a wink all night.
I rolled onto my back and stared at the ceiling, smiling to myself. What an odd predicament the three of us girls had gotten ourselves into. We were sleeping in a strange family’s living room on the east coast of Hawaii as they slept soundly just down the hall. When we were searching for an Airbnb place, we had thought a private room would mean a completely private room – with a door. Instead we were in the living room that opened into the kitchen and dining room. I wasn’t complaining; it was clean and quiet, unlike the previous nights at the hostel.
When I first mentioned the Stairway to Heaven to my travel buddies K and L, I had left out a fair bit of important information. Using the incredible photos from Instagram as ammo, I convinced them that we should do this climb whilst in Oahu. I failed to mention how difficult it is and the fact that it’s actually illegal. As soon as the girls saw the photos though, they were in. We got to planning the logistics, started talking to people and before we knew it we were buying headlamps and muesli bars and sourcing out the location of the entrance. In the back of my mind I thought that we’d never go through with it and that we’d just always talk about the time that we went to Hawaii and nearly climbed the Stairway to Heaven. As the other two girls stirred beside me, I realised that we were actually going through with this.
My next alarm buzzed and I was quick to switch it off.
“Already?” I heard my sister K whisper, “I swear I just laid down”
“At least you got some sleep, I’ve been tossing and turning all night” I retorted.
Sitting up, I rubbed my eyes. As a part of my preparation I was already in my hiking clothes, bar my uncomfortable sports bra. I got off the sofa and tiptoed to the bathroom, trying to be as quiet as possible so not to wake our hosts.
When I returned K and L had both gotten up and were quietly getting dressed.
“You know we could just go back to sleep and say we did it” K lamented.
“Not a chance” I said “We’re going”, I whispered back.
Suddenly the anxious anticipation I’d been feeling all night turned to adrenaline. There was no way I was backing out.
We slid out of the house barefoot, another part of our preparation. We didn’t want our clunky hiking boots to wake the family. Silently we got into our boots, put on our backpacks and started to walk up the street towards the entrance we discovered yesterday. It was dark, but the full moon illuminated the sky making it feel later than it actually was. The crisp, morning air was invigorating, better at waking me up than any alarm would. We passed a lone dog walker and he gave us a knowing smile.
“Be safe girls” he said, knowing exactly what we were up to.
Reaching the gate that we had sourced out yesterday, our first problem arose. Unlike yesterday where the gate was wide open, it was now padlocked shut and the big signs saying ‘NO TRESPASSERS ALLOWED’ that we hadn’t seen yesterday suddenly loomed in front of us. For a nanosecond I considered turning back. I think the girls were having the same thought. We stood in silence for a moment and then K said
“There’s a track on this contour bank, we must be able to climb around it”
Surprised but thankful at her bravery we clambered up the contour bank using the bamboo that was growing wild on it. Trying to be as quiet as possible we managed to get to the top of the contour bank and followed the path through the bamboo until we were on the other side of the gate. I went first and jumped down the contour bank, falling on my butt in the dirt. It wasn’t as graceful as I had anticipated, but I was through!
I was shaking with adrenaline. This is definitely the most badass thing I had done in a very long time. I couldn’t believe how easy it was to break the law. However, my optimism was cut short when we heard a car pull up and lights flash in the direction of the gate.
“Sh**!” I whispered, “It’s the cops!”
Panic rose through me and a lump started to build in my chest.
“Don’t move, don’t move” L whispered hastily as she crouched on the top of the contour bank
“Be a tree, be a tree”, I thought silently to myself. Lying against the contour bank with my face centimetres from the dirt I waited, not brave enough to move an inch. The car rumbled just metres away and the person inside flashed their torch through the window at us.
“Don’t move” K whispered slowly. She needn’t had said it, I wasn’t moving a muscle.
Suddenly the car drove off, giving up on catching a criminal. I let out my breath in a sigh of relief. We could still hear the car engine running, it sounded as though they parked it a bit further away.
“What do I do?” I whispered to the girls
“Get back up!” L replied and the both of them helped me up the contour bank just as a flashlight shone through the gate. Holding onto the girls, we waited with baited breath until the flashlight turned away and we heard the car drive off.
Looking at each other in the midst of the bamboo we heaved with silent giggles. What a close call! We jumped quickly down off the contour bank and walked swiftly up the hill not saying a word.
Reaching the gap in the bamboo forest that lined the road that we had found yesterday, we were now right out of sight from the street and the locked gate. Feeling brave enough to speak K asked
“Do you think that was actually the guard? Or just someone coming to try and climb the stairs?”
That hadn’t even crossed my mind, the only thought going through my head were if the jails in Hawaii were like they were on Orange is the New Black. Pondering this out loud I said, “I guess if it was the cops, why wouldn’t they come through the gate?”
Feeling more confident, we continued on the track through the bamboo until we came to a large opening where the track diverged three ways.
The instructions we had found on Google hadn’t mentioned the gap we had first went through, it had said to continue on the road until it forked off in two directions. Though yesterday afternoon I had raced up this track until this clearing, convinced that this was another way to get there. We hedged our bets and went with the track that led us in the direction of the huge motorway above us. With me in the lead with the most powerful torch, followed by L and then K, we trekked through the bushy track in silence, concentrating on not slipping over in the mud.
The track came to another opening and this time we were left with two options. One way had a big opening but after several steps the track disappeared, so we turned around and tried the other option. A low hanging branch covered this one, but the path was clear once we pushed through.
“Look!” L exclaimed, pointing to footprints in the mud, “People have been here!”
Feeling a sense of relief we walked on, only slowing to clamber through the bushes that hung low over the track.
After awhile we reached a steel fence with a large hole in it. There was a track that had been made along the fence but my gut said to go through the hole as it was in the direction of the motorway, and hopefully the Stairs.
“We doin’ this?” I asked the girls and their already sweaty faces looked back at me with an expression of doubt.
“Lets go” L said.
We climbed through the hole and within several metres we had reached a gravel road. Almost leaping with delight, we hastened our pace as we walked up the road. It was nearly 4am and if what the Internet said was true, the guard at the Stairs would be just arriving for his shift.
Walking up the road using the full moon as the torch, we reached another fork in the road. To our right were some buildings, which we assumed were a part of the school around here. To our left the road ascended, and we could only hope that it was the right path. There was no sign of where the guard might be, but I was aware he might pop out at any time.
“Is that a person?” I said startled. My already bad eyesight was playing tricks on me in the dark.
“ I think it’s just a tree, keep going” K hustled.
I stopped and let her take the lead, suddenly feeling like I needed my big sister to take over. She strode up the steps towards the dark shadow and L and I followed behind.
“Guys, there’s stairs… I think this could be it.” K said
We walked quickly, taking two steps at a time until we reached a steel fence that stood about five metres wide.
“What a useful fence” We giggled as we clambered around it, trying not to fall ass up in the mud.
I turned to keep walking when suddenly it dawned on me.
“I’ve seen these stairs before, and this handrail. It’s like the ones of Instagram. You guys… I think this is it!”
We squealed in excitement. It was like discovering the Holy Grail. Until now I had just thought we would keep walking around, only to discover the Stairway were an urban myth. But here they were! They were real!
We bounced up the first lot of stairs, ecstatic to actually be here. I took the lead with the strong flashlight guiding where my feet should go. The steel steps were mostly even, but slippery from the mud and wet grass. Within minutes the steps started to get steeper and steeper and it was starting to feel like we were climbing a ladder instead of stairs.
Step by step, I pulled myself higher and higher. I don’t know whether it was my few weeks of preparation on the Stairmaster back home at the gym, or the fact that I was too terrified to be puffed, but I breathed evenly as I ascended up the stairs.
After awhile the stairs flattened back out and we took a quick breather. The motorway that had loomed above our heads was now looking more like a small path. We were getting high! Continuing on, the stairs went steeper again until a vertical ladder stood before me. I stopped and turned to face the girls. They were a few steps below me and had yet to see to the vertical ascent that was to come. I took a deep breath and started climbing – if I kept going, they might just follow.
Trying not to think of the fact that I was climbing a mountain face, with just a slippery handrail to hold me, I pulled myself higher and higher.
“Are you f***ing kidding me!?” I heard L mutter as she reached the steep ascent. I had to laugh – what we were doing was absolutely ridiculous.
After what felt like an eternity, I reached the top of the ladder and the steps got less steep. Pausing for breath and a look around, I was in awe of how high we were. It was probably a good thing we had left so early, there was no way I’d climb this in the daylight!
We climbed further until our torches flashed upon a mess of steel poles and mud. This must be the infamous part of the track that had been destroyed in a landslide last year. About four metres long, the handrails were knocked over, covering the stairs meaning we would have to climb over this to continue the hike. I kept looking at it until K and L reached me.
“What should we do?” K asked. “Is this the worst part do you think?”
We discussed what we should do and came to an agreement to just sit down and wait until it starts to get lighter so we could properly see what we have to deal with.
Making ourselves as comfy as we could on cold, hard steps we nestled in and waiting for the rising sun. I tried to catch some Z’s, my lack of sleep from the previous night was suddenly catching up on me and I felt tired and worn out.
L, having drunk a Redbull at the start of the stairs chattered away with K for a while, until we all sat in silence playing the waiting game. It felt like an eternity had passed
“Ah, there’s someone there!” L exclaimed
My mind quickly raced to the police scare we had earlier, had they followed us up the stairs?
“Oh hey!” a male voice said with surprise “Ah, what are you doing?”
We laughed and told him our story. He introduced himself as Bear and said he had done this climb before and was taking his friend up for fun.
“This is the worst part, the stairs go back to normal after this. Want to follow us?”
Still half asleep and slightly in shock, from meeting someone else on the stairs we got up quickly and let Bear and his friend past. We dutifully followed them as they climbed over the broken staircase with ease.
Saying goodbye to Bear we slowly kept climbing the stairs. I had given up on my torch, just letting the light of the full moon guide me. One by one the stairs disappeared and my body felt like an automated machine. Step, grab rail, pull up, step, grab rail, pull up. The staircase was like a wave, some parts were quite horizontal and easy to climb whereas others we were past the point of vertical and if I braved looking down I would be standing directly on top of K.
After an eternity of stairs, we reached a viewing platform where Bear and his friend greeted us again. Elated to be somewhere near the top, we whooped loudly. We were actually here on the Stairway to Heaven! Unbelievable!
Swapping stories with Bear and his friend, we chatted while fuelling up with bananas and Hershey’s Kisses. They told us how they got to the stairs, how they walked straight past the guard without saying a word and were in disbelief when we shared our adventure.
“I have no idea what way you girls went” Bear laughed “You’re so lucky you found it”
We laughed in agreement; honestly we couldn’t believe it either.
“Ready for the final bit?” Bear asked
“There’s more?” replied L with a look of dread
He smiled at us “Not much further, the view is totally worth it!”
Deciding to rest for a bit longer we said good bye to Bear and his friend once more and sat down on the platform, reeling in what we have achieved.
Intrigued, I wanted to go further up. L was adamant she was staying put so K and I put our backpacks back on and approached the ladder once more. We climbed and climbed for another 15 minutes or so. It was just as steep as before, except now we didn’t have bushes protecting us from the wind. The staircase clung to the edge of the mountain, with not a tree in sight. We were so exposed to the elements that one strong wind would probably knock us off the edge.
Every time I thought I was near the top, another set of steps appeared. It felt like we were actually going to keep walking to Heaven! A heavy fog had settled in at the top, but we could faintly see where we had to keep going.
“This is crazy, I don’t think I can go any higher, we still have to get down this damn thing”, K said “Plus the sun is about to come up.”
I had to agree, it was scary enough climbing up the stairs, I hadn’t even thought about how I would climb down them. We were almost at the top and I knew I would regret stopping so close to the top, but my legs were shaking in protest at the thought of going higher.
We climbed a bit further until the steps flattened out once more. Within minutes the world around us turned to light and the city below us started to come alive. It was an incredible feeling, being this high up. Amazed by the view, we just stood and watched. I can’t even comprehend how to explain the view, it’s just one you have to experience for yourself. It also made our hike to Diamond Head the other day look like a stroll in the park.
Staying for a while, I took as many videos and photos as I could, sad that I would never capture this incredible view in a way to give it any justice.
K and I headed back down the stairs to L and I was surprised how easy to it was get down. The sun had fully risen by now and we could see for miles. I can’t believe our luck with the weather, you couldn’t have picked a clearer day. We took more photos and hung out of the platform some more, soaking in this incredible feeling.
Reluctantly we started the descent down. K took the lead and flew down the stairs, I followed alternating between climbing down facing the stairs and facing the world, pending on how steep the stairs were. L took the rear, slowly making her way down facing the steps.
We reached the broken part of the stairs and climbed over it like it was nothing. What we had read on Google had made it sound so hard to get around, but compared to other parts of the climb, it was a breeze. My arms were started to tire from my constant clenching of the handrails and my calves were shaking from the climb but there was no wiping the smile off my face. We kept climbing down until we reached the steel fence that had greeted us just a few hours earlier.
“Ah is that a car?” K asked, as we climbed past the very obvious ‘NO TRESPASSING SIGN’.
“Sh**’, I think it is” I replied and like guilty children we walked slowly down to the gravel road.
The navy blue four-wheel drive stood waiting for us and a stern looking lady sat in the drivers seat with steam coming from her ears. We quickly power-walked past her with our heads down, pretending we didn’t exist.
“Do you think she will report us?” I wondered, my inner goody-two shoes getting worried.
“I think she’s just more mad that she didn’t catch us on the way up” L laughed.
We headed back down the gravel road, eager to get away from the Stairway and from any trouble. We were meet by a different steel gate lined with barbed wire this time and realising we took a wrong turn somewhere we either had to turn back and walk past the pissed off guard, or continue to break the law and jump the massive fence. Opting for the latter, my inner ninja came alive and within two seconds I was over the fence. Using the neighbour’s brick wall for stability I hoped for the best and for once in my life, my coordination was on my side!
We quickly walked the streets, thankful for K’s GPS on her phone so we could find our street. Somehow we had come out several blocks away from where we had started, which had totally disorientated us. We walked with our heads down, trying to avoid the glares from locals driving by. They didn’t like people trespassing to climb the Stairs, and with good reason but I didn’t regret it for a second.
After the longest walk of my life, we finally reached out apartment block. Stopping at the Jeep to pull off my muddy hiking boots, I could have almost laid out on the bitumen right there. We dawdled up the stairs to the door and languished in the empty house. Never in my life had a shower felt so good.
While we didn’t quite reach the top of the Stairway to Heaven, I was still so impressed with our efforts. It’s an experience I will never forget, and honestly I wasn’t quite ready to walk all the way to Heaven yet. I still wanted more time on this Earth 😛