ManoaFalls_Hawaii_Entrance

The air is pregnant with the promise of rain as the driver cuts the engine. "Come back here in an hour, right here," he yells out, leaning slightly toward the bus' open door. He points to the awning of the bus stop and I dip my chin in acknowledgment. "Thank you," I shout back.

I can feel the heaviness of the air as I begin my walk toward Manoa Falls. No longer gas, it's solid and thick like a shake. Beads of sweat have begun to form on the small of my back, which is hidden (thankfully) by my camera bag. The group behind me is dawdling. I am waiting for no one.

ManoaFalls_Hawaii
ManoaFalls_Hawaii

Alone, I cross the threshold from residential street to dense jungle. A veil of mist hangs above me, lightly embracing the tops of the canopy. Winding my way past the gift shop, parking attendant and botanical garden, I reach the peeling metal gate as the sky cracks open. Vines of water beat down from the sky creating small rivulets between the rocks and the ferns. The ground turns to muddy streams. All sound is drowned out by the thundering smacks of rain.

ManoaFalls_Hawaii-4
ManoaFalls_Hawaii-4

Pulling the hood of my jacket a little closer, I press on, passing couples huddling under the thick fingers of palm fronds and Elephant Ears. Deeper in I go until relief manifests itself in the form of trees. Lush banyan trees and groves of Eucalyptus knit together creating a kind of tunnel, a porte-cochère of sorts, under which I am protected from the passing shower.

ManoaFalls_Hawaii_2
ManoaFalls_Hawaii_2

Around me, slender bamboo stalks stand like soldiers, tall and erect. A medley of ferns and vines tangle with the gnarled bases of trees, some of which have contorted themselves into deep backbends. The moisture in the air has heightened the smell of the earth.

ManoaFalls_Hawaii_3
ManoaFalls_Hawaii_3

As I reached the trail's namesake waterfall, the rain lifts if only for a moment.

"Have you been here before?"

I turn toward the face of a smiling woman.

"No, first time," I say.

"It's mine, too."

I already know that I like Wanda. Petite and silver-haired, with pink cheeks and eyes creased with years of adventure, she is a ball of energy standing next to me as we marvel at the grandeur of the 150-foot fall. Our heads are cocked back and we gaze awhile in silence, neither one of us brave enough to brake the spell.

ManoaFalls_Hawaii-5
ManoaFalls_Hawaii-5

Wanda is a writer, she later tells me, and has recently published a book (her second). It all begins, rather serendipitously, where we are standing today. Years ago, she came upon a photo of Manoa Falls and vowed to one day hike among the flora and fauna to reach it. A former Hawaii resident, Wanda's adventurous heart took her around the globe, but never to Manoa Falls.

Until now.

Meeting Wanda got me thinking about travel and the endless reasons people do it: for adventure, for comfort, for love or in spite of it. We are escaping or seeking, beginning a story or closing the book on one; we are in search of indescribable beauty and fleeting moments, of laughter, and sun tans, and a few scrapes and bruises. People travel to taste the new and return to the familiar, for sensory thrills and human contact. We travel to learn and we travel to forget. For risk and reward.

With Matt working while here in Hawaii, I've been forced to go out and do things alone. I eat alone, swim alone, hike alone. And when I descended the steps of TheBus this morning, I felt very alone. I kept my head down and walked quickly toward my destination, not taking the time to pause and wait for my other fellow hikers.

But on this serendipitous occasion, learning and seeing firsthand how my new friend Wanda lives life with "frivolous ferociousness," I've discovered that the only place a traveler is ever alone is in her own head.

We want to know: Why do you travel?

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