Friday, December 30, 2011

Da Bus

It is a cliche that the Hawaiian tourism is a somehow elitish. In fact, given the location in the middle of the ocean (the islands are quite distant from anywhere one arrives), the feeling is something exotic. From California it takes five hours by plane, so, it is not exactly cheap just to get there. Not to mention the cost in terms of time and money, if you come from Italy!
Therefore, if you land to Honolulu, what you find is a type of tourism a little snob, walking into shopping streets, tanning at Waikiki beach. In the traffic many limousines can be seen.

Instead, the Kaua'i island is a bit apart from the typical touristic Hawaiian destinations. And the most common public transport is The Kaua'i Bus, familiarly Da Bus (slang for "the Bus").
Unfortunately, if these buses are used by residents, we can not say the same for tourists. I suggest to all those who go on vacation to Kaua'i to ride them, because they are comfortable, cheap, efficient and you can experience better the local customs.

The service, atleast for the trips I have experienced, is very good. Always on time and with frequent departures.
Of course cars are more comfortable, since the bus has to respect the schedule and it takes time for the intermediate stops. But it does not force you to pay attention to driving and you can concentrate on the landscape outside the windows.
The fixed cost of a ride (no matter how long it is) is two dollars (not exactly cheap, if it is a short distance, but very convenient if you consider that you can run around the island). You don't need to buy a ticket before, you just put the money in a box next to the driver. Much more convenient, as we did, is to buy a pass that entitles you unlimited use of all the lines for a month for $25.
In the town of Lihue there are a few lines that make urban service, including there is one funnily named "Lunch Shuttle", scheduledin the hours around noon. It stops at the most common restaurants/fast-food (I imagine that it is used by workers in their lunch break).
Out of Lihue the lines make both urban and suburban service. They go on the highway and make frequent detours in the residential areas, reaching hospitals, schools, shopping centers and places of public utility.

The nice thing of Da Bus is the friendliness of the service. Often the driver use to chat with passengers. Once I heard him singing along with the radio on "It's aloha friday, no work till monday", a very common Hawaiian pop song, and then, addressing the passengers screaming "This is my song, friends!" Happy at the thought of the weekend starting soon. Another typical driver was the one that took us a couple of times in Poipu: a "grandma" with a hat adorned with cute little flowers, driving so slow despite the nearly empty streets. At each stop she announced its name, even if we were the only two passengers, and she knew our destination (they ask, sometimes, for statistical purposes).

Even the passengers are generally relaxed and friendly (what a big difference with Milan underground!), And never fail to greet when they enter, and thank the driver when they exit. There is ervery kind of people: the boy and the girl flirting, the guy dressed like Michael Jackson trying to attract attention, the businessman who does leave the cellphone alone, the grandpa who smiles to everybody who meet his gaze. In any case, most times you end up chatting with someone you meet on Da Bus or at the bus stop before boarding, as if there was some kind of brotherhood among all those who use Da Bus.

It would be nice if the service worked even at night, so one could use it for the nights out. Also, i think the lines should be enhanced to some destinations, for example, there is no bus that goes up to the mountain (that could be because the towns are almost all connected by the highway that runs on the perimeter of the island).
In general the service is very good for the destinations of the locals, but not enough for the tourists. The beautiful Poipu beach, for example, which is on a detour from the highway, has its own line, but the trips are not frequent enough, which forces you to spend a lot of time waiting for the bus.
One thing I find objectionable is the custom to keep the air conditioning at high level. It's advisable to bring something extra to erar, in consideration that, outside, you are always in shorts and T-shirt.
In the front of the bus it is arranged a rack that can hold up to two bicycles. This service (i think for free) is frequently used: the cyclist secures the bike and then rises on the bus. I wonder if you have to reserve this service in advance by calling Da Bus people (if not, what could happen if there are more than two cyclists on the same trip?). Of course the buses are equipped with a lift for handicaps and spaces to accommodate wheelchairs.
The service is perfectly sized (I think this is the reason for the statistics I mentioned above): The seats are often all occupied, but it rarely happens that someone has to stand. Only once it happened to me, during students rush hour, a trip was crowded (but nothingcomparable to public services in our cities).

In short, if you appreciate the atmosphere of calm and comfortable relaxation you can breathe in Kaua'i, Da Bus is the best way to visit the island.

Also for this post, the photos are by Rowena

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Tropical hiking

Hiking in Hawaii is definitely a different experience for those like me, accustomed to Alpine mountain trails.
First of all, the climate. The humid heat makes movements more strenuous. Also, the paths tend to be covered by the quite intrusive tropical vegetation: the undergrowth ferns hides the tracks and make it a little disorienting. Also the rocks are hidden by vegetation, so the painted signs, if any, cannot be seen. Moreover there is not a valuable service such as CAI (Club Alpino Italiano) who maintains trails and markers.
Fortunately the hikers theirselves put and renew indications with colored ribbons tied to the branches every now and then.

GPS track of Honopu excursion.
View the map in a bigger size
Honopu ridge, October 16, 2011

The signaling ribbons (orange and pink) were indeed very useful during the first of our two trips into Kaua'i island. R's son and his girlfriend came with us

Reached the beginning of the path by car, we followed the directions outlined here. You enter the forest, which, in descent, becomes more and more intricate. At one point the path becomes very humid and you end up slipping.
When the forest opens you are on the edge of a steep slope especially, pretty easy to overcome if not for people like me, who have an innate dislike of the precipices. Fortunately it's only a small part, and finally you go back into the forest. At the end the view over the beautiful coastline of Na Pali is breathtaking.

View from the end point
To tell teh truth, from here, the beach (about 3500 feet below), cannot be seen. But you see the side promontory that forms, along with the one under your feet, one of the magnificent Na Pali bays. Within the valley one expects to see emerging from the vegetation the necks of the brachiosauruses, which, exactly here, have been the protagonists of Jurassic Park. Instead, you can see the birds (they are actually just tiny white dots). Every now and then, far below, a touristic helicopter passes, barely visible. Other white dots in the ocean must be boats (the beaches in the small bays below are inaccessible from the land).
You are on the crest of the hill so, looking to the other side the view opens up to another valley. In the distance it appears Ni'ihau island, the Forbidden Island.
From here the path goes down rather steep (and apparently not very safe), always on the crest. It does not seem to promise a better view of this. Satisfied and aware that the return is quite all uphill, we head back onto the same path.

GPS track of Makaleha excursion (the inaccuracies are due
to the bad satellite receptions in the forest)
View the map in a bigger size
Makaleha Falls, October 17, 2011

Also interesting, though completely different, was the other excursion.
This time, in addition to the four of us, there were also R's brother and sisters, with their husbands. The guide was D, the brother, which had already come here long ago. The path goes up folloowing a stream, and has several river-crossings and parts with slimy mud. Warned in time by D, we have adapted our equipment to these conditions. Hiking boots were not right: we then purchased the "Tabies", special rubber boots, flexible, with soles thick but soft and covered with a layer of a material similar to velcro. Without this type of footwear it is impossible not to slip. In addition, the adhesion of the rubber to the ankle, similar to the one of a diving suit, helps to lift the foot when it is stuck in the mud.

The route is varied, almost always surrounded by dense forest. At some point it passes very close to a huge monolith shaped like a cube, which looks like a dice fallen from the hands of a giant. Then suddenly you enter a surreal place: a bamboo forest. The canes, huge and high, take the place of trees, leaving, between each other, enough space to unravel. A few hundred meters, and just as suddenly, the vegetation of ferns and tall trees reasserts itself. Here the trail is lost, even if it is not difficult to guess the direction, as you continue to follow the course of the river. But your must walk on the trunks of fallen trees or branches, covered with slippery moss, clinging to other branches or rocks to keep balance. You can not see the dirt, the vegetation is too intricate, but judging from the level of the water, you are about one-two meters from the ground.
The humidity is a lot, and after a few hours of walk, it turns into rain. The weather suddenly changes in the islands, so we judge that it is much safer to retrace our steps. Too bad, because D says that in the end of the path (another couple of miles) there is a pond where you can take a shower under the waterfall.

Wonderful excursions. When you go to Hawaii for vacation, you think about beaches and ocean waves, but in my opinion, especially in Kaua'i, the Garden Isle, it is the haunting beauty of the untouched interior to leave you breathless.

There is something intimate in the experience of walking in nature, and it was nice to share it with my in-laws. It feels as if this experiences created a bond among us.

Me, in the bamboo forest.
All the photos of this post are by Rowena