Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Hawaii: Diamond Head & Byodo-In Temple

The best thing about having a birthday while living in Australia and visiting Hawaii is getting nearly 48 hours of birthday between all the time zones. It was fantastic to get happy birthdays around the clock. Most of the activities I hoped to do on my birthday were fully booked before I thought to make reservations. I did book some reservations, but the soonest was a week out. Instead, my aunt and I went to a Japanese restaurant and then Honolulu Zoo. The zoo was really great, but I'll explain more about it in another blog entry, or else I would overload this one with pictures. 

The next day I began searching for sights to see around me. I decided on Diamond Head (aka Le'ahi) since it was close enough to see in the horizon. It took a while to find the bus, as the public transportation system here is nothing like the public transportation in Melbourne. Here, there are only buses, no trains or trams. Each bus trip costs $2.50 round trip. There is a time limit for the round trip, but I'm not sure what it is. The hard part is that most bus stop signs do not list which buses stop there; you are just expected to know. The online information is serverely lacking in timetables and current routes. When I couldn't find the original bus I was planning to take, or any bus stops for that matter, I asked a lady at an island tour stand. Apparently, the bus listed on the oahu transportation website as the only Diamond Head bus, wasn't running at all that day. The lady at the desk directed me to the correct bus and stop. 

Diamond Head is the remains of a volcanic eruption approximately 300,000 years ago. The ash cemented into a tuff cone crater, 350 acres wide with the highest point being 761 feet high. Originally it was given the name Le'ahi. It is said that the sister (Hi'iaka) of the Hawaiian fire goddess (Pele) named the summit, but there is some disagreement on what that name meant. In the late 1700s, foreigners passing through mistook the crystals within the tuff rock to be diamonds, giving the summit it's now common name, Diamond Head. The federal government purchased Diamond Head in 1904 for military coastal defense. They created a zigzag of pathways with several steep staircases leading to the highest lookout point. To this day, these paths are still used. Volcanic rock is extremely vulnerable to erosion, but the pathways help to protect it. These were the trails I followed. 

-The view from the sidewalk.

I began by walking along the edge of a road uphill. By the top of that hill, the view was already picture worthy. The sidewalk squeezed into a couple feet barricaded off inside a short tunnel. Signs for Diamond Head began littering the side of the street shortly after. It only cost $1 to get inside the park area. The zigzag trails made the journey to the top considerably longer, but also much easier to walk. The stairs tried to murder me. I later read on a pamplet about Diamond Head that most of the staircases contain 99 stairs. It seems there are also two pathways to the top, one much easier than the other. I discovered this after I had gone all the way up the hard way. There were a few small tunnels mixed in which gave a welcomed chance to cool off. The summit was beautiful, with a view of a lighthouse, the total crater of Diamond Head, Honolulu, Waikiki beach, and quite a bit beyond.

-This is the way I went. Had I paid a bit more attention, I could have found a much easier path directly behind me! (The bigger issue: what's the red stuff on the walls....?)

-It was difficult to get the lighting correct. Totally forgot to take out my earbuds or actually look at the camera...

After Diamond Head, I began looking into other paths to hike and places to visit. This was my chosen method: go to Pinterest, search for O'ahu, research where the prettiest pictures were taken. By far, the best place seemed to be the Haiku Stairs (aka Stairway to Heaven). It is a pathway of stairs which follows the very top of a hill ridge, giving a gorgeous view of the island. Unfortunately, the stairs were seen as a neighborhood nuisance and dangerous due to erosion, ultimately resulting in their closure in the 1980s. Now they are monitored by security guards and trespassers are ticketed. Since nobody was willing to bail me out if I got caught, I had to cross that one off my list. The search did take me to a wonderfully entertaining website "fictionally" decribing in detail how to break into the Haiku Stairs.

-A Pinterest picture of the Haiku Stairs

The next most beautiful place on my list was the Bypdo-In Temple. I figured out the bus route and spent nearly an hour traveling to the eastern side of the island via public transportation. The bus dropped me off right in front of a huge graveyard of rolling hills in the Valley of the Temples. Each of the deceased had a plaque above them, with only a few having more to mark their grave. As I walked past the graves, churches and temples began appearing behind them. It seemed to be a never ending graveyard of various religions. Near the end of the road, was an entrance booth to see Byodo-In Temple. It cost $3 to visit, which I had no problem with paying. The road was somewhat long. It was made for driving, not for pedestrians. Several different cars stopped to ask if I wanted a ride to the temple. I refused since I was quite enjoying the walk there. It was beautiful. One grave had a feral cat colony living beside it. As I approached, most of the cats ran, but a few were too comfortable sun basking on the warm black tombstone to be bothered by me.

The beginning of the graveyard.

I like to imagine that the person buried here really loved cats.

I'm pretty sure this person liked cats, or at least stained glass tigers.

The Byodo-In Temple is a replica of a Japanese Buddhist temple by the same name in Uji, Japan, near Kyoto. It's opening dedication ceremony occurred on June 7, 1968 to commemorate the hundred year anniversary of Japanese immigration to Hawaii. Surrounding the temple is a simple, yet well cared for Japanese style garden filled with a variety of common birds and koi fish. A large pond stands in front of the temple, forcing the pathway into an oblong shape. The signs led me to a six foot sacred bell (aka bon-sho.) This bell was created in Osaka, Japan and modeled to look closely to the 900 year old bell hanging at the original Byodo-In. I was invited to ring the bell using a shumoku log before entering the temple. The sound was meant to clear the mind and remind visitors of the transitory nature of life. The doors of the temple were open, allowing people to go inside or see in while walking around the front. Bare feet were required for temple entry. I was wearing yoga mat sandals, which were surely cleaner than my feet after walking so much. I chose to not enter for fear of tracking dirt. From the outside I could still smell the thick odor of burning incense. The centerpiece for the indoor area was a nine foot and two ton representation of Buddha. It was to represent life and light, to simplify it more than I should.

As I was exiting the temple, an elderly Japanese man sitting on a cheap fold-up chair on the porch asked me where I was visiting from. I summed up that I was from Tennessee, but was visiting Hawaii from my new place in Australia. A middle-aged Japanese lady selling small paintings at a counter nearby joined the discussion by asking about my reasons for traveling and what my family thought. Both admired my solo travels. While they weren't related nor from close towns, they had both had been Japanese born, though they neglected to say why they chose Hawaii. The woman began asking me about Koalas. She had wanted to visit Australia to "hug the koala" for the past serveral years, but had yet to make it to there. The elderly man commented about how poisonous the snakes were in Australia. I successfully resisted explaining the differences between poisonous and venomous, and simply agreed with enthusiasm. He delighted in that and dove into stories about catching snakes using sticks as a boy. One time he came upon a tree, only to find out it was a python. He and his childhood friends caught that one too!  When he was very small, he would sing to himself at night. At this point the man looked quite serious and looked me in the eye as he exclaimed that snakes have ears; if they hear you singing at night, they will come crawl into your bed while you sleep. As soon as he learned that'd rom his father as a boy, he never made noise at night again. 

The woman behind the counter caught my attention at the end of the story to ask my name. "Like Morgan Freeman? I thought that was boy only name... That is a great name!" Her name was Sumie. She asked me what other Hawaiian attractions I was planning to visit. When North Shore was mentioned, the elderly man said something in Japanese which was too fast for me to catch. After a few quick exchanges, Sumie explained that the man's son was a professional surfer. A recent storm had created 50 foot waves at the North Shore causing a surfing competition to be canceled. The man suggested I also go to see the volcanoes on Hawaii island, and then he stood up and walked into the crowd surrounding a temple gift shop. 

Sumie returned to the topic of koalas quickly, which soon evolved into asking about my career. She enthusiastically claimed that I would be very successful. I responded with an "I hope so" which was clearly not enough confidence to satisfy her. "You will be very successful. I can tell. You will be very great." I thanked her, but she continued. "Do you do work alone or in group?" I thought It was an odd question, but I replied that I enjoyed both depending on the work. "See! You adapt! You seem very brave and independent person. Your face, your face says happy. It is friendly. You are good at talking to everybody." This was making my head a bit too big to keep it balanced propery between my shoulders. I said that she was very sweet and that I appreciated it, but she wouldn't let me leave just yet. "I see you blush, but it is all true. You will be very great! You will do good things!" Finally, with a last thank you, she let me move out into the gift shop yard. 

The gift shop was selling small bags of food to feed the birds and koi. A southern black man was still as stone, down on one knee with an arm outstretched to the birds, as if he were about to reenact a scene from Shakespeare. He stayed delightedly frozen as two doves landed on his fingertips to eat the food he bought them. Two black swans, gifts from Australia, swam slowly over the koi, hoping for some of the treats to be tossed their way. Through the crowd, I spotted the elderly man once again. He was muttering something that sounded like "pecan." Assuming he was speaking Japanese with someone else, I continued walking. All of the sudden, he shouted a loud "Morgan-San!" My head jerked back over to his gaze as he pointed and stated in a firm, but excited tone, "Morgan-San. Peacock! There is a peacock here to show you. His name is Mr. Peabody. You will like him." The whole time he had been trying to get my attention to see a peacock, not talking about pecans. The peacock was very pretty and quite friendly, though I kept a respectful distance. Before the man left the temple, I asked his name. While I couldn't quite catch his long and complicated name, I definitely caught the "Bishop" part of it. This man was the head of this temple and I had spent the whole time just assuming he was a bored old man. I said goodbye and shook his hand as he left for the day. Before leaving myself I bought a small little turtle figure from the gift shop which had been made in Japan. 

While walking back down the pathway, I saw a flash of brown fur scurry into a small hole. Not sure what types of small mammals live on the Hawaii islands and with a few hours left of day, I camped myself just behind the hole. Moments later a mongoose head shot out, saw me, and hid once more. I was satisfied with that and left, happy to have seen a mongoose for the first time. I soon learned that they are as plentiful as feral cats here, but it was still exciting. 

As I waited for the bus next to a group of young teenage boys trying to hide the fact that they were doing some sort of drug, I watched a chicken cross the a busy road. Apparently, the answer to the age old riddle is to get to the McDonald's for littered French fries. Who knew?



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