Category Archives: Life on Oahu

Surviving Stairway to Heaven

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Originally written for Untapped Cities.

Hawaii’s Stairway to Heaven hike, also known as Haiku Stairs: 3,922 steps crawling up Oahu’s Koolau Mountain Range, built in 1942 by the U.S. Navy as part of a radio communication initiative. The scenic voyage became an instant attraction, but because of disrepair, the trail was closed to the public in 1987. The city of Honolulu spent $875,000 repairing the stairs, predicting a safe trail ready to open in 2002. However, when repairs were complete, the city was hesitant about the planned opening. Residents of the neighboring property complained about the visitors and fought the reopening. During this time, hikers ignored the no-trespassing signs and the city eventually employed security guards to stand at the base of the stairs and prohibit entrance.

Five years ago, the city of Honolulu was still deciding the fate of the landmark. Should they reopen the famed hike to the public? Or keep it off-limits? Director of City Services at the time, Jeff Coelho, said, “The complexity of issues include everything from liability and risk to access and maintenance.”

Nothing has changed since that time; the city continues to pay for security and countless locals and tourists continue to show up in the middle of the night to avoid the guard and conquer Stairway to Heaven. The hike shows up on almost every “what to do in Hawaii” list and “virtual tourist” discussion I’ve seen, including popular travel sites, all of course stating that they are not condoning trespassing.

After I moved to Oahu, I heard rumors very early about people dying and being injured while climbing Stairway, and that’s why it was officially deemed forbidden. However, after vicious Googling, I cannot find any information on a death or injury. It’s clear that the illicit nature of the trek has created many tales—some true, some false. It is certainly dangerous though, and I was not going to take any chances! After all, you have to show up in the middle of the night, break into a gate, sneak quietly through the woods to the stairs, and climb up the 3,922 steps in complete darkness. One misstep or clumsy moment can literally mean falling down an entire mountain. I’d much rather spend my Saturday sleeping in and then soaking up some rays on the North Shore. Alas, my adventurous itch won the battle. I had to know what all the hype was about; I had to determine for myself whether this attraction should be banned to the public or not.

So at 2 AM, my friend Peter and I started our journey by making our way to the Windward Coast Kailua area, on empty Interstate H3. We followed a few Yelp directions very closely, parked in the nearby neighborhood, and tiptoed to the fence that warns trespassers. Our extreme paranoia kicked in when a red laser light appeared on the fence. It took our tired and nervous minds a few minutes to realize that a man was having a good laugh on his lanai behind us. We breathed sighs of relief, waved, and continued on. This part was sketchier than the actual stairs, in my opinion. You follow a winding path, taking a couple turns at forks, and eventually trekking through the eerie forest. Finally, after being a little startled by a group of fellow explorers, we reach the bottom of the stairs. It’s time to begin the steep (and seemingly treacherous) climb. The cool Hawaii night air and ocean breeze do nothing for us here; we are sweating within seconds, light jackets tied to our backpacks and flashlights steady on the steps in front of us.

Looking down is quite terrifying. H3 winds beneath us and random cars, seeing our flashlights, honk at us as if to say, “Keep on going!” However, we can’t see any of the mountain itself. It’s far too dark to see the work we’re actually doing. I stop often, until we are finally at the first landing, after what seems like hours. We take a break to eat an apple and I secretly want to curl up and nap. The air is getting cooler as we ascend and soon I realize that the steps themselves are not difficult. They are quite small, evenly spaced, and there is helpful railing the entire way up. I feel quite safe, actually. The tough part is the distance. We climb for hours, each step tricking us into thinking we’re closer to the last landing, but the darkness and the shape of the mountain make it impossible to tell. We can only guess. And finally, a group of people, huddled together with blankets and food, congratulate us. “Only this last stretch,” they say, pointing. Nope, we’re not there yet. They’re on the lower landing to pass time until sunrise, because the top is obviously the coldest and wettest, deep in the clouds.

We obey the pointing and haggardly head up the last, short (for once) flight of stairs. We’ve made it, we’ve conquered Stairway to Heaven. Oh wait, we still have to go all the way…back…down. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see the sun rise since it was a particularly cloudy morning, so we carved our initials in the muddy shack and started descending as lightness began revealing what we’d accomplished. The misty clouds near the top dampen our hair and skin and I realize that the hike definitely has a fitting title. Made it to Heaven before I even died, oh man will my mother be proud.

Trekking down the stairs is less difficult physically but more difficult because it feels less stable. The railing is slippery and now, you can see where exactly you’d be falling, which is a little startling. Our seven hour process is finally over as we see the guard standing by his truck at the bottom, casually talking and joking with other hikers. We escape without even a warning. There have been people who were not so lucky, however. If you arrive while the guard is there, you can receive a citation. Also, some people have not been respectful of the neighboring residents, which has caused a lot of tension. These residents have complained of noise, trash, and limitation of neighborhood parking. We made sure to park on an open street, we were extremely quiet, very careful with trash, and of course, we were cautious with the hike itself! If the public follows these simple rules that we did, I do not see why the legendary expedition should be banned. Stairway to Heaven is hands down the best way to take in the magnificent ocean, mountains, beaches, clouds, and other surroundings. It is an absolutely perfect way to fully appreciate and experience (both physically and mentally) the beauty and power of the island.

As of today, the city has no plans to reopen the beloved hike.

Our journey ended with the only sane thing to do after a vicious workout: pancakes, French toast, and hashbrowns at local favorite, Cinammon’s Restaurant. Hawaii, you never seem to disappoint.

Maybe if the city lifts the ban, I’ll conquer Stairway like this next time.

The Wait for June

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So it’s almost time to escape the island for a while. Six more days, and I’m free from 7th graders for two whole months. One week from then, and I’ll be in Spain. Yes, Spain. Ecstatic cannot even express my most minimal surface emotion. I’ve literally been crawling out of my skin here; I’d say that if I had to teach for seven more days instead of six, or if I had to stay on the rock past May 31, I might have a psychotic breakdown. I’m talking full-out: dye my hair, get a piercing or tattoo, sleep with that roid-head trainer at my gym, and send in an application video to one of MTV’s many shitty shows. So let’s hope my flight doesn’t get delayed, right? I’ll be teaching conversational English to a rich family all of June, and then making my way, by bus and hostels, to Pamplona for my birthday gift to myself: Running of the Bulls.

Here’s what I’m escaping:

  • 100 pre-teens that are causing extreme stress, gray hair, wistful thoughts of corporal punishment, and pessimism about this nation’s future.
  • Beaches. I know, I know, I live in a beautiful place. But I’m looking forward to the architecture, museums dripping in Picasso and Dali, and, of course, a good ol’ bull run. I never thought the sun and sand and palm trees would get old, but I guess that’s just something tourists say.
  • Disappointments. All of them, all the different kinds, big ones, small ones, fat ones, skinny ones, slimy ones…however that nobodylikesmeeverybodyhatesmeguessi’llgoeatworms song goes.

Here’s what I’m hoping to find:

  • Myself. Hahaha, just kidding. Couldn’t help it.
  • The best summer of my life. Last summer will be hard to top (Europe, moved to Hawaii), but dammit, I’m going to try.
  • Español fluency, finally? Or at least closer to it. And this time, I won’t come back to the States and stop practicing and forget everything I learned. I’ll teach in Spanish everyday if I have to. The kids can just deal.
  • Some fantastic stories. My friend suggested seducing a member of the royal family, going back to his villa, and swimming laps in his infinity pool as he occasionally feeds me grapes. I’m thinking more along the lines of slumming it with a stable boy (my host family owns an equestrian center), learning some secret enchilada recipe from a cranky old woman, and somehow waking up in France after a night of too-much-tequila. Ok, fine, whichever comes first.

If I don’t elope or get abducted, then I’ll be back in early July, probably right when I would’ve started missing teaching and beaches. But until then, GET ME THE HELL OFF OF OAHU, get me on a horse in the Andalucia region, and hand me a glass of vino. No, make it a bottle. Summer, I’m a comin’.

Those Crazy Nomads

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What It Means To Be Nomadic

I’m so tired of excuses. Everyone has them; everyone uses them as a means to an end. It’s kind of pathetic. Stop blaming your fears on your made-up, self-diagnosed bullshit. Placebo effect gone wrong—if you tell yourself that the justification is true, it becomes true in your mind.

The latest and greatest from someone who I really thought cared about me: “I’m nomadic, I can’t grow roots anywhere.”

You’re kidding me, right? Just because you’ve moved around a few times in your life? You think this makes you nomadic? Get over yourself, we’ve all moved around! I hardly know anyone who’s stayed in one place their whole life. Do you think you’re nomadic because you plan on leaving this island as soon as you can? GUESS WHAT, SO DOES THE MAJORITY OF OAHU. That doesn’t make you nomadic. That doesn’t mean you can’t grow a root or two. That doesn’t mean you can’t feel or start something real. Stop blaming your fear of tough conversations, raw emotions, and commitment on some fabricated inability to settle down.

I’ll live in a thousand more cities before I die. I live in every city I visit, because I love it and I soak it in and I carry my whole heart to that new place and I breathe it in with both lungs. But I want nothing more than a shared happiness. And I will never treat any part of my life like a temporary fix or short-term comfort, because you never know when something great is going to jump out and scare the shit out of you (some people call this love).

Anyway, this wasn’t meant to be a rant about one person, but more of a message for anyone riding the tails of an excuse—grow up. I hope that everyone finds someone who is worth being scared for, you know? Worth knocking down protective walls and having hard conversations, worth the assurances and fights and honesty. Finding someone who’s worth all those things and more—that’s kind of the point, right?

Hawaii Bucket List

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A LOT more to cross off, and even more to add. Suggestions welcomed and appreciated! I’ve almost been here a year and I still don’t know a whole lot about this island…leave no stone unturned!

  1. Climb Stairway to Heaven
  2. Hike Koko Head
  3. Hike Lanikai Pillboxes
  4. Makapu’u tide pool hike
  5. Sex on the beach
  6. Skinny dipping in the ocean
  7. Visit Big Island
  8. Volcano hike on BI
  9. Visit Kauai
  10. Visit Maui
  11. Waimea Falls park/hike
  12. Surf
  13. Paddle board
  14. Booze cruise
  15. Learn a little ukulele
  16. Learn a little hula
  17. Learn a little Hawaiian
  18. Learn a little Pidgin
  19. Manoa Falls hike
  20. Shrimp trucks and shaved ice, repeat often
  21. Be a friend’s tour guide (local status)
  22. Whale watching
  23. Snorkel, snorkel, snorkel
  24. Scuba?
  25. Become as tan as I can possibly be
  26. Befriend a boat owner
  27. Explore Chinatown
  28. Art After Dark
  29. First Fridays
  30. Fresh Café Slam Poetry
  31. Get absolutely sill-ay in Waikiki
  32. Diamond Head
  33. Lighthouse Trail Hike
  34. Kualoa Ranch
  35. Kayak
  36. Meet Jack Johnson, Bruno Mars, and/or Dog (but preferably Jack)
  37. Pearl Harbor
  38. Iolani Palace
  39. Punchbowl
  40. Go to a luau
  41. Hit up every single beach on Oahu
  42. Bishop Museum
  43. Polynesian Cultural Center
  44. Honolulu Zoo, Aquarium, and Sea Life Park
  45. Parasail
  46. Hanglide
  47. Camping
  48. Ride horses
  49. Grow a pair and jump off of the Waimea rock
  50. Steal a pineapple from Dole Plantation fields
  51. Visit Lanai
  52. Decorate one of the “NS Christmas trees”
  53. Mac 24/7 Pancake challenge

Salt Water

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“The cure for anything is salt water: tears, sweat, or the sea.” -Isak Dinesen

Previous experiments that have resulted in favor of this quote:

#1 Hated my job and craved a worthwhile, impacting career change. Needed to get away from the 30 mile radius that I’d spent my whole life in. Just went through a horrible break-up. Solution? Move to an island, surrounded by the sea. Spend days melting into sand, floating over waves, and working on my tan. Did it work? Hell yeah!

#2 Shitty day. Solution? Go to the gym and sweat profusely on an elliptical while watching The Voice, The Soup, or really anything that starts with The. Did it work? Hell yeah!

#3 I used to cry a LOT when my feelings were hurt. Mainly, crying helped when I cried so much that my body literally couldn’t produce any more salty water. That’s when I’d pick myself up, take a shower, make a snack, and move the fuck on. Did it work? Hell yeah!

Future ways I shall test this theory:

1. Next time my students are really grinding my gears, I’m going to throw my hands up, give the lesson plan to the nearest and dearest teacher’s pet, and book it to North Shore.

2. Things that make you sweat: hiking, lying on the roof in summer, street fighting, sex. Try it all, man. One of them’s bound to work.

3. Ok so I have to be honest, I haven’t cried in a LONG time, which is awesome and also sad (I’ve become a wee bit cold and heartless, it’s fine). But I’m sure if I need to shed a tear or two, I’ll do it and it’ll work. Fresh idea—start crying out of happiness. This sounds much more pleasant.

4. Somehow combine all three? Would EVERYTHING then be cured? Example: go skinny dipping in Lanikai, then climb Stairway, then cry at the sheer beauty of the sunrise?

 

Here’s another question. I see the power of this quote. But how far could it go? Can we cure world hunger with salt water? Gang violence? Animal abuse? Racism? THE POSSIBILITIES ARE ENDLESS. Send the rapists to Maui, create a new viral TV show called “Sweat Out Your Murderous Streak,” and play The Notebook on repeat until pedophiles weep the pedophilia right out.

Seriously though, I am a firm believer in this whole thing. Salt water. It’s genius. What a perfect day—being near the sea, feeling super accomplished because you’re sweating (don’t you always feel accomplished whilst sweating, even if it’s disgusting?), and something happens that makes you SO incredibly happy that you cry, just a little bit. Puttin’ this on the Hawaii bucket list.

How to Be “Pleasantly Surprised By Everything”

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I’ve officially learned the hard way how true a good friend’s words were recently:

“Never get excited about anything, and then you’ll be pleasantly surprised by everything” (or something like that).

HOW TRUE IS THAT?! How sad, but true is that? When she first said it, I thought it was hilarious of course, as are most things that come out of her mouth, but I didn’t take it seriously. After all, getting excited about things is…well, fun. Getting excited means smiling and laughing and butterflies and anticipation. How boring would life be without excitement?

But then again…the quote is 100% true. Our lives would be simpler and easier if we never allowed ourselves to get excited about anything. Think about it. You’d never have ANY expectations, no unrealistic fantasies, zero delusions about experiences that family or friends or media have hammered into your minds since birth…

Let’s take a few examples from my life:

1.       Life After College. Oh my lord, I thought immediately after I was handed that diploma that my life would basically start exploding into fireworks of adventure, fortune, and happiness. I built up life after college SO much—not only in the four years at Texas State, but also in high school, and probably before that too. This is the supreme example of how getting excited about something screwed me over. I realized pretty quickly that Oh, wait…I didn’t find the perfect husband in college. Oh, wait…I don’t have a fabulous dream job lined up. Oh wait, I’m still living in a shitty apartment selling clothes for a horrendous hourly wage? If I hadn’t been so excited, maybe this time in my life would’ve been seen as relaxing and full of possibilities instead of hopeless and a huge, huge disappointment.

2.       Moving To Hawaii. Yes, Hawaii was my first choice when I applied for TFA. The rest of my top ten cities were big and bustling, most of which I had never even been to. Why? Because this was going to be THE BEST TWO YEARS OF MY LIFE! This experience was going to be LEGEN-wait for it-DARY! Oh, I got my first choice city? Of course I did, because these two years were going to be filled with getting a tan, travelling between islands, being a kickass teacher, finishing grad school like a boss, and meeting  beautiful surfers (one of whom would become my boyfriend, of course). It’s a little ridiculous how excited I was about moving here. And c’mon, I had great reason—this is paradise, this is one of the top honeymoon spots, this place has no real winter! BUT (there’s always a but when you get too excited), this has of course been the hardest thing I’ve ever done. This is the most I’ve ever complained, stressed, lacked sleep, had migraines that are out of this world…and I can’t help but wonder…would it be this challenging if I hadn’t built it up so much in my head, convincing myself that it was going to be PERFECTION?

3.       Relationships. If you haven’t read my blog “Dating on an Island,” go read it…If you’ve read it, then I really don’t need to say anything else right now. You get it. Dating sucks, people suck, having high expectations sucks, getting disappointed time after time sucks. But hey, if I don’t like it, I should just stop getting excited about relationships, right? Cutting out this aspect leaves us heartbreak free. If we don’t get excited, we therefore won’t get crushed. Plus, no matter what sleazy or slimy or downright disturbing words or actions someone directs toward you, you won’t be fazed! Because you weren’t excited anyway! Ahh, the liberation.

The problem is, none of this is actually possible. We’re wired a little differently than that, unfortunately. No matter how much my friend can say “Never get excited about anything, and then you’ll be pleasantly surprised by everything,” she’ll never actually, truly be able to live by it, nor will I or you or anyone.

We’re programmed to get excited, to get our hopes up, to anticipate the best, and to be severely disappointed when again, something is, instead, the worst.

But who the hell cares. I’m one of those idiots who gets excited about EVERYTHING and everyone. And you know what? I’ve had plenty of pleasant surprises in my life, thank you very much! Then again, have I had more disappointments because of my over-eagerness? Shit, probably. Point moot. Whatever, dream big or go home.

Dating on an Island

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In case you hadn’t heard, I live on a rock in the middle of the Pacific. It’s not exactly a large rock and most men here are either A. covered in tattoos and wear jeans and flip-flops to the gym B. are in (and obsessed with) the military or C. work with me in TFA. All three are baddd directions to go in. Trust me. Ok, so I haven’t tried option A, but some assumptions and judgments just have to be made.

Also on the plate: I have officially been swayed (by a very trustworthy source, might I add) to try out a certain online dating site. Let’s just call it Bokay Poopid. Don’t laugh. I was extremely hesitant about this endeavor, but finally took the leap after realizing that, in my current life, the only way to meet a person of the opposite sex is drunk downtown or at Foodland (no such luck in the cereal aisle). So Bokay Poopid it was. Worth it, you ask? Well, the free dinners have been nice. Some conversations have been great. But what it all comes down to is…the craziest, most ridiculous, insanely sketchy, creepy as hell messages I’ve ever read in my life. Let’s review a few experiences so you understand the magnitude of this situation, shall we?

Ex. #1: “How do you feel about guys doing you with a strap on?” This gem went on to talk about penis size (and offered to send picture proof). Thank god there’s a block button. What. The. Hell.

Ex. #2: “I buy you a horse.” That’s it—that was the entire message. I think it might’ve been in reference to me being from Texas, but then again, could’ve just been a sugar daddy with a ranch. When I read the message, in my mind he had a heavy foreign accent…because he didn’t say, “I would like to buy you a large animal to ride about” or “Would you like a thoroughbred complete with a saddle and stable?” Nope, just, “I buy you a horse.” Looking back, I really should’ve messaged. I’ve always wanted a horse.

Ex. #3: “How do you feel about egg salad sandwiches?” I did message this guy back, to ask him if it would be a deal breaker if I didn’t like them (because I don’t). To really throw him for a loop, I mentioned my love for tuna salad, preferably made with Miracle Whip.

Ex. #4: I go on a date with a guy who seems completely nice, normal, and smart. He casually mentions mid-meal that he’s shipping off to Afghanistan in a mere week. Thanks, bro.

Ex. #5: First date, the guy asks if I have any weed. WINNER.

There have been more, sadly, but let’s stop at 5. The point is, Foodland isn’t working out, the bar scene is definitely not working out (“Oh you’re a teacher? I bet you get a lot of apples, huh? Get it? ‘Cause you’re cute.” SHUT. UP!), and Bokay Poopid is obviously not working out either. Thanks Life, you’re the bomb.

Also, for the record, it’s not just me. My friends, since being on this anti-Cupid of an island have:

  1. Dated a guy and then been dumped via email.
  2. Met a guy for coffee and afterwards he basically tried to force her into his car. Near-rape is always fun. Ladies, if you live here, start carrying some pepper spray.
  3. Been set up with a wildly attractive man who turned into somewhat of a Clinger Stage Five. “Can I see you every second of every day for the next, say, rest of our lives?”
  4. Had love professed to them by coworkers or friends who have not a chance in hell and they now have to awkwardly keep seeing that person.
  5. Started to like or date the roommate or best friend of said awkward person.
  6. Dated and cheated on two people at the same time. “You will be my M-W-F. You will be my T-Th-S.”
  7. Have broken long distance relationships off because the fact that we’re thousands of miles away from any other civilization is hard.
  8. Have tried the whole friends with benefits thing (not smart).
  9. One night stands, nuff said.
  10. Have thought seriously about hooking up with their roommate. Icky.
  11. Have been a tourist’s personal “guide”…Poor, unsuspecting vacationers.

Do I really need to go on?

The fact is, this island is cursed. CURSED I TELL YOU. At least I’m not alone in this. Maybe this is part of “island fever” that no one told us before moving to “paradise”?

What are our options, you ask? Well, Lesbianism is out unfortunately. I wish it were that easy. Moving is out as well, I’m sticking out this two-year contract even if it crushes my body and soul! Bokay Poopid was disabled after the “I want to get you into a shower” message I got the other day, but desperation might make me enable it again I’m sure.

The only real option is to get over it, to accept the fact that for the next year and a half of my life, I’m going to be on this loveless rock, having hilarious dating experiences that make exceptional stories and pretty damn funny blogs. I can live with that. There’s also the the lesser known option D; carless, dorm-living, undergrad UH student. Don’t worry, he’s legal. I’ll let you know how it goes.

It helps that I have amazing friends going through the same crap (if not worse). Not to mention, we have wine and lots of it.

“If I met Ryan Gosling, he’d wanna build me a house.”