On the Go

Srajan recalls an exciting hike in Hawaii, from the Waipio Valley to the Waimanu Valley with a magical intervention.

In 1979, four of us, three sannyasins, Prabuddha, Prem Richard and myself, along with longtime friend Dr. Bart, set out for a three-day/two-night hike to Waimanu Valley (river of birds). We would begin at the famed Waipio Valley (curved water).

Waipio overlook
Hiking route

The Waipio Valley overlook parking lot was the end of the road. We would return here in three days to catch a shuttle to Hilo airport. From here on out we would be hiking for 15 miles roundtrip on the Muliwai trail through some of the wildest and most beautiful mountains of Hawaii. I knew the northern portion of these Kohala mountains well, having taken Hawaii Bound School students there on 5-day-long treks where we learned to camp and hike, rappel, and how to function as a team. The school used the area as the first week training ground for 26-day courses that explored the rest of the Big Island and included an ascent of the 13,680’ (4,170 m) Mauna Loa volcano as well as an outrigger canoe trip along the Kona coast. Kamehameha the Great, the first king to unite all the Hawaiian islands was born in these Kohala mountains, making it a special place to all Hawaiians.

Waipio Valley is the deepest valley in the Kohala mountain chain, a shield volcano cut by deep gorges, the result of extensive erosion. Waipio Valley was once home to as many as 10,000 Hawaiians who raised taro, sweet potatoes, yams, gourds, sugar cane and bananas. Being one of the most picturesque natural settings in the world, it once sheltered a robust ancient Hawaii civilization before 1778 when Captain Cook arrived. Cook and his crew brought disease, munition, liquor and other nasty stuff to the islands. Today, only about 50 villagers live full-time in the valley.

The 800’ (244 m) drop into Waipio valley is 4-wheel drive only with a 25% grade and in places it is even steeper. It is the steepest road of its length in the United States. We would have to climb this at the end of our adventure. As you will see, we would need an ‘intervention’ to make that rendezvous.

Once in the valley we skirted along the black rock and sand beach to the northern cliff wall of Waipio Valley. The climb up a rustic trail was chest thumping and gave us an idea of what was ahead. Once on top of the plateau as we continued walking we would be dipping in and out of valleys and crossing multiple streams before reaching the southern cliffs of Waimanu Valley, our destination.

First view of Waimanu
Waimanu beach
Surf at Waimanu beach
Drone shot of the waterfalls
Evening light

Here we would camp and explore for another two days, eating simply, visiting nearby waterfalls, and generally basking in the beauty of the valley and the crashing ocean. We enjoyed Waihilau falls, one of the tallest single drops of a waterfall in the USA descending from about 3000’ (915 m) to about 400’ (122 m) elevation.

And now to the crux of the story:

We had decided to celebrate the final day of our Waimanu Valley adventure with a late morning swim in the wild surf at the valley’s mouth. The four of us paddled out, diving under waves, and then rising to gain a few meters out to sea before ducking under the next crasher. Finally, we were outside the surf zone treading water and could look back at the remarkable lush cliffs and waterfalls of Waimanu Valley. We marveled at our good fortune.

Suddenly it became clear that there were only three of us. The rip current had already pushed us along the coast towards a rocky area. And now where was Prem Richard? Looking back towards the beach we saw a head and an arm rising out of the surf zone and it was apparent that Prem Richard was in trouble. Collectively we swam to him, now ourselves getting tossed and turned in the surf. He was mostly limp, eyes not focusing and not even able to speak. Holding on to him we all managed to get ashore but were now greatly concerned for our exhausted companion. He hadn’t taken in much seawater thankfully but was entirely exhausted and barely able to move. However, his vital signs were fine and we all agreed that he would recover, albeit slowly. And therein lies our predicament.

We had to reach the trailhead at Waipio Valley by 5 pm or we would miss our shuttle ride to Hilo airport. This would interfere with international flights onward from Honolulu. The obvious thing to do was to divvy up Prem Richard’s equipment and try to make the normally 5-hour trek in time for the shuttle. It was decided that I would stay behind with Prem Richard helping him along while Bart and Prabuddha would go ahead. Perhaps they could detain the shuttle driver long enough for all of us to reach the top of the long climb out of Waipio Valley.

It was going to be close and we had to move steadily. With many rest stops along the way, Prem Richard and I finally reached the overlook back into Waipio Valley at 4 pm. Using binoculars, we hoped to see our two comrades ahead of us but they were out of sight, probably hidden in the jungle of the valley. Or perhaps they had already reached the overlook.

We would now have to descend the rough steep trail down to the beach, cross the beach, ford the stream, hike up a short trail, and then climb the final 800’ (244 m) up to the lookout.

How were we going to make that? It looked impossible. All we could do was move as quickly as possible in our exhausted state.

4.30 pm heading home
4.30 pm heading home

We forded the stream just after 4.30 pm completely spent, knowing that reaching the top was out of the question. We just didn’t have the energy. What to do? It was then that two things happened: First I noticed a papaya tree with a dangling bright yellow fruit. Dropping the packs, I moved to the tree and shook it, managing to catch the exploding papaya before it hit the ground. We both dug into it as messy as it was, laughing, our mouths dripping with papaya juice. After washing at the stream, we returned to our packs. We looked at each other as if to say, “now what”?

Bhagwan Mala It is important to remember that as sannyasins in those days we were wearing orange and red clothing and each of us three had a mala around our neck.

Spontaneously and still laughing, I raised my mala to my mouth and said in an urgent voice, “Calling Bhagwan, calling Bhagwan, come in please, we need to have an orange jeep sent to us immediately!”

Resigned, yet with a laugh and a shrug we loaded up and headed up the short trail to meet the road out of the valley. Within a couple of minutes, we heard a sound we had not heard for days. The deep-throated roar of a vehicle engine at high rpms. Just as we reached the bottom of the road upwards we met, of course you’ve guessed it already, an Orange Jeep! It had just crossed the stream and was still dripping wet!

“Are you kidding me?” I exclaimed. We waved to the driver to please stop and he did. I asked him, “Where did you come from?” He replied that he and his wife had been exploring the valley and they had both received a strong inner message to leave the valley immediately. Why they didn’t know as that wasn’t their plan for the day.

We asked if we could have a lift up the road, they agreed, and off we went bouncing and twisting up the road holding on for dear life.

Yes, we did make it to the top by 5 pm just barely and it was a good thing since the van was ready to roll. Bart and Prabuddha were happy we had made it. They wondered why we were so giddy, so I told them the story of the ‘rescue’. At first, they rolled their eyes thinking the joke was on but they had seen the orange jeep and soon were laughing with us.

So, what does this story say to us? Was it pure magic, synchronicity, the power of the master, a dimension outside time, or everyone’s innate power of manifestation? Does it say that we all have radar in a sense, a consciousness much wider and more expansive than we give ourselves credit for? Perhaps the lesson is this: After resigning oneself to a seeming helpless situation, help is always available. I think it is that power of resignation, of letting go, and then simply trusting that the universe will hear your call. If you just call for it.

Now, forty years later I can report that no similar experience has happened to me. But then, I never did call in on my mala again. In fact, this mala was lost somewhere along the dharma trail after 1990. I was, however, recently given a beautiful 108 bead Tibetan mala from a female meditator who studied with a Tibetan master. She was moving to some isolated lake in Canada for retreat and saw that I loved the mala.

So far, I haven’t used it… but… one never knows.

Photo credit Stephen Warner


Srajan is a writer, lover of Asian art and relishes life as a global nomad.

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