Kayaking the Wailua River to Secret Falls (that aren’t so secret)

On day four of our awesome trip to Kaua’i, we decided to kayak and hike to the Secret Falls. Originally, we planned to see the Nā Pali coast, but since it was too windy, we had to change our plans. So we grabbed our swimsuits and sunscreen and headed to the river, which is on the east side of the island.

There are numerous rental agencies in this area, from which you can rent kayaks or stand up paddle boards (SUPs), but we went with Wailua Kayak and Canoe. The service was less than desirable, but the proximity to the river made it worth it, since we didn’t have to load and unload anything. We simply took the kayak on little wheels and walked them to the ramp. After we got them in the water, we simply rolled the wheels back and were on our way.

Me with the kayak

The kayaking takes about 45 minutes and is actually easier on the way there than on the way back because of the wind, but the river itself hardly moves. On both the way up and the way down, you stay on the east side of the river, since ferries come by every now and then, hosting hoards of tourists wanting to see falls and the fern grotto, which is apparently super pretty but was something we didn’t get the chance to see. The ferries, while a bit loud, aren’t frequent enough to completely disturb the beauty of the place around you and it is easy to enjoy all the beautiful scenery. The river takes you to a fork, in which you stay left and continue all the way up until you see a sand bar full of kayaks. Here is where you drop your kayak or SUP and begin the hiking portion. I would take a picture of your kayak’s number, since there are so many there.

Only a small portion of all the kayaks

Once you’ve hoisted your kayak onto shore, the trail begins! Through the first part, there is tons of tall grasses (almost feels like a maze!) and a relatively dry trail. Depending on the time of day, you might cross paths with people leaving. Some may offer you a walking stick and if you aren’t completely sure-footed, you should take it! The trail will get progressively more slippery as you travel farther.

After the grass, there is a river to cross. The water is neither deep nor strong, but it’s a good idea to hang onto the rope anyway. On our way back, we slipped and almost lost all of our phones, so be careful!

The path takes you alongside the river, which allows for excellent views! At some places it is wide enough for two people side by side, but in others, it is pretty thin and requires some patience. Most of the hike is pretty level, with only a few uphill spots at the end. One review we read before going was saying that this is not a hike to take your grandma on, but we took ours and she did totally fine. Another thing they tell you is to stop avoiding the mud and just go for it, which is fantastic advice. If you keep trying to stay out, it is even more slippery and you are almost guaranteed to fall. That being said, pack sandals you can wash, rather than tennis shoes.

Our legs after wallowing through the trail.

The closer you get to the falls, the more beautiful the scenery is. As you continue by the river, lots of little water falls and big trees become more and more common. There are two more spots where you have to go through water, but these were warmly welcomed because it gave opportunity for us to wash our legs off. Sometimes, the guides and tour groups stop here, but if you give it enough time, there are opportunities for gorgeous photos.

One of the smaller waterfalls

Even though the trek there is pretty, the grand finale is easily Secret Falls. After a brief uphill climb, the trees will open up to a massive waterfall that has a little area to swim in. There will be people gathered around here but there is plenty of space to take photos and enjoy the waters. If you are on your own schedule, here would be a great place for a picnic (remember pack it in, pack it out!) and enjoy the views. If you are lucky, one of the guides brought his ukulele and was playing some tunes, which created a magical atmosphere. Luckily, there are no helicopter tours here, so you may enjoy the nature without any distracting noise.

Secret Falls

Hiking back down isn’t much different from hiking up; just make sure not to slip on the mud. Make sure to hand off your walking stick if you grabbed one and enjoy the wilderness around you as you go. This hike and kayak sessions was one of my favorite things we did while in Kaua’i and would be fun for people of most ages and physical abilities (if you are ok with falling in mud, you are good!). It offered splendid views of the “garden island” and its natural beauty and is something I will never forget!

All of us after the hike

My Experience with the Maasai

Spending time with the Maasai people and their culture underneath the shadow of Mount Kilimanjaro is one of the best experiences of my life to date. I was first welcomed into their arms during my travels to Tanzania, where I spent time developing a primary school in the rural savannah. As a result of my time with them, I learned a grand amount about myself and the world around me.

The Maasai family I was with

The Maasai people inhabit parts of Eastern Africa, namely Tanzania and Kenya. Their roots reach back to South Sudan, where they then moved south and ended up in their current area somewhere around the seventeenth and eighteenth century. They have traditionally survived on cattle, which provided meat, milk, and blood for them. They were also known as fierce warriors, due to their strength and weaponry. Unfortunately many of the Maasai (about 60%) passed away from disease such as smallpox and rinderpest, which depleted cattle sources. However, their traditions and values still hold true to the people today and were experiences I was honored to experience during my time.

Many current day Maasai thrive off of tourism, yet others still live a traditional lifestyle; I was lucky enough to see both. Since we were there to build we were viewed less as tourists and more as aide, giving us a more authentic experience. Never once did we attend a touristy cultural event, which I was thrilled about, since often times their culture is swapped for entertainment. For a more in depth idea of what these performances are like, I co-wrote an article with one of my closest friends on her experience in Tanzania.

So if my experience wasn’t the entourage of performances many guests to Tanzania see, what was it?

One of my first impressions of their friendliness was when we were welcomed from our bus to camp with a song that lyrics are as follows:

Jambo, Jambo bwana. (hello, hello sir)

Habari gani? Mzuri sana. (how are you? very well)

Wageni, mwakaribishwa, (you are welcome to)

Tanzania

Hakuna Matata ([there are] no worries)

Translation provided by our guides and camp staff
Us with our camp staff

This song, while simple in lyrics conveys the idea of peace seen all throughout Tanzania. This country prides itself on being uninvolved little conflict since its origin in 1961, which is reflected in Maasai culture. Throughout our entire stay I felt treated with respect and care. At many times I even felt they were more welcoming than cultures in my home country.

Although the Maasai we stayed with were more rural, we met people from both urban and rural backgrounds. However, their dress remained consistent. Even though we occasionally saw them in style similar to the United States, the broad majority of people we met were wearing the “traditional” shuka, a brightly colored piece of cloth that is wrapped around their body. While the shuka is typically described as traditional, it actually only became popular in the 1960s, due to more modern technology; before, leather was used. These pieces of cloth are also used as blankets, which we used in our camp. I actually brought one back with me and it is the most useful purchase I have made. It is perfect for hot and cold temperatures and easy for packing around for camping, traveling, or whatever you please. Some Maasai prefer kangas or kikoi, which are one piece garments, sort of like a sarong. These tend to be more common near the coast and in Kenya, which wasn’t where I was staying.

Shuka

In addition to the brights fabric, Maasai are also well known for their bead work. Historically, these beads were made of natural items such as seeds and clay; currently, like the shuka, they are made of more industrialized materials, such as plastic and glass. The beadwork has heavy amounts of importance in the social life of Maasai. Different colored beads mean different things and the type of jewelry can signify social statuses. Some mean a woman is married or unmarried, a man is a warrior or not, or higher or lower social classes. Beading with The Maasai warriors was one of my favorite activities while I was in Tanzania, and I still wear my beads today! One of my history teachers was actually gifted a beaded collar that many of the women wear in celebrations and weddings and it is absolutely beautiful. The work is so detailed and stunning.

Beading with the mamas

Along with beads and shukas, many Maasai actually carry weapons. They were famed for their strength and fighting ability, which is seen in their understanding of weaponry. The Maasai I was with typically carried a machete and a conga or rungu (same item, just two different names), which is a wooden club with a nub on the end to heighten the impact. It is carved from trees in the savannah with a machete, and then softened with bits of glass and leaves from a sandpaper bush. Lastly, they are often treated with petroleum to prevent from damages. These clubs, although seemingly simple, are exceptionally lethal in the hands of a warrior; in fact, they have been used to kill lions.

A rungu is also a beaded club that instead of being a weapon, is a symbol of power and respect. They are given to the elders during meetings and only the person holding the rungu may speak. Along with these clubs, some Maasai know how to make and use bows and arrows. On the last day of our trip, we had weapons training, where we got to throw congas and shoot the bows. None of us could throw them nearly as far as the Maasai; some could throw congas half the length of a football field.

The men and their weapons

A few words of Maa, the language of Maasai, have popped up in this article, such as conga, rungu, and shuka. However, many Maasai don’t know Maa or others speak it and another language, such as Swahili. It is part of the Nilo-Saharan family and for the most part, is only a spoken language. There are some written translations, but I only heard it in conversations. The more rural you are, the more you will hear it, especially in the markets. We had to barter in the market we attended and I loved listening to all the chatter and learning more vocab. I still have all the notes jotted down in my notebook.

As for food, Maasai still consume plenty of cattle, but goat is also super common. In fact, during our trip, we gave a goat as a gift to the camp team and had the opportunity to witness a ceremonial slaughter. To some, this was too gruesome, but I watched for the cultural experience. We ate the goat later that night and I have to admit it was pretty good. Maasai also eat lots of cornmeal, which they cook into numerous types of dishes including Ugali which is boiled cornmeal that is created into a loaf and typically eaten with other foods, including stir fried peppers or others. For families in poverty (which the average family of seven in the area we were in lives on $5 or less a week), a cornmeal porridge is a typical meal. It is bland and flavorless and tends to stick to your throat as you eat it. During one morning, we had to eat an entire bowl as a group and a cup each individually. It was a very unpleasant experience that opened our eyes to reasons that we should be grateful. After plenty of gagging and forced spoonfuls, we finished the bowl with two or three of us, including myself, taking one for the team and eating more than one cup. However, regular loaf Ugali is something I cook for special occasions and enjoy greatly.

Preparing vegetables

Most rural Maasai live in small homes, called an enkaji, that are traditionally built by women. Women of most ages are expected to build these homes, with the exception being those who are pregnant and elderly. The huts are built with nearby materials, starting with wooden poles. From there, smaller sticks are woven together to create an outer frame. Plaster made from mud, cow poop, and sometimes human urine is then used to create a more finished frame. Cow poop also is used for the roof, as well as grasses. This combination makes the hut waterproof and safe from outside weather. Enkaji typically are used for staying in (can hold one or two beds), cooking, and even storing small livestock, such as ill goats. Unfortunately, since there is little ventilation, indoor cooking can cause health issues as the smoke has little place to rise and exit. However, these homes provide adequate shelter from the harsh savannah climate.

The house

The Maasai also have several ceremonies and traditions that are important to their development. The most well known of them all is the circumcision undertaken by young adults as it is the entry into adulthood and crucial for social success. Traditionally, both men and women would be circumcised, but due to many health concerns, female circumcision is illegal in many places. However, it still occurs in rural areas and is prominent among men.

The first step of circumcision is for then boy to state that they are ready for the operation, which is typically just after puberty. They must prove themselves ready, which can be as simple as taking on chores of the adults or enduring other painful tasks, such as branding*. When they are truly ready, they will herd cattle alone for seven days and upon the eighth, prepare for the procedure and be bathed in cold water to cleanse them of past wrongdoings. The other males in the area will cheer for the boy as he approaches the area of operation, but also warn him that if he fails to complete the circumcision without any sign of pain, he will be disbanded from society. During the procedure, which is completed without anesthesia by a respected elder, the boy must not flinch or cry aloud. Any sign of pain shows that he is not confident and brave enough to become a warrior. Afterwards, the boy wears black for several months before assuming his duties as warrior and growing in social status.

Our warrior guides

Staying with these people was an incredible experience that opened my eyes to an entirely different way of life. Their culture and lifestyle was drastically different from my daily routine at home, but despite this, we found so many ways to relate to one another and swap stories. I loved every aspect of what the shared with us, from food to fabrics, and I hope that one day I will be a guest again.

*This was knowledge passed to me from our guides, but is something that may be unique to certain areas since I have yet to see it again on all of the articles and sources I used to double-check myself.

Hiking in Waimea Canyon

Settling by the ocean and the cities of Kaua’i is a massive canyon and mountain range. The Waimea Canyon, nicknamed the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific,” is a gaping gorge at the western end of the island and provides plenty of opportunity for hiking, exploring, and adventuring. It is about ten miles long, one mile wide, and 3,600 feet deep, and is something you should totally explore.

One of the viewpoints

If you are staying at the southern end of Kaua’i, the state park is accessible via Highway 550, which can be reached with nearly any type of car (from the north, it is a longer drive along the several highways along the coast). The road curves often and offers many beautiful viewpoints of the canyon and the ocean. Honestly, it is difficult trying to balance wanting to stop at all the views and actually getting to the canyon. A few of my favorite stops opened up views to the canyon, featured red and waterfalls, and many, many cairns stacked before the canyon. Aside from these, I would recommend you keep driving in order to get there in a timely fashion. 

One of the little waterfalls
All the little cairns

There is a big lookout point a few miles up. Here you can get out and stretch and take pictures of the double waterfall in the distance. Make sure to bring your camera! At this point, you will notice that there is an abundance of helicopters; I feel like we saw more of them than birds! If you want, there are many helicopters trips that take you up to the falls themselves, but if it isn’t in your price range, there are many beautiful views from afar. We had talked with a couple that took a helicopter to avoid hiking with their baby girl and they absolutely loved it!

A glimpse of the falls
One of the lookouts

If you keep driving, you will reach the trailheads of Waimea, which is where the one we took was. This path was simply named Canyon Trail, which was noted on the sign that also warns of poor trail conditions. Given that we were there in spring, “poor” was almost an understatement as recent rain created mass amounts of mud and exposed the roots of the towering trees. We persisted nevertheless. The first chunk of the path was almost all mud, making for a really exciting walk. Two of the four of us fell within the first quarter mile. After that, the trail becomes pretty steep and full of roots- be careful not to trip!

Entrance to the trail
The trail through the trees
Lots of photo opportunities!

At some point, you reach a downhill that ends in a small stream that you need to cross. There is a rope to help you, but it is almost easier without it. Afterwards, there is more uphill where the trail begins to dry out. Here is a great time to explore the flora and fauna, since there is lots of diversity in the plant life. However, keep in mind that very little of the island’s greenery is native; most of it has been brought in by imperialists and settlers. Plenty of species have been killed off by the invasive ones, making for a terrible history and drastic change to the landscape in comparison to thirty or fifty years ago.

Crossing the bridge
Views from the trail

As you continue upwards, you will eventually reach a dry and rocky area. If you hurdle over these rocks, you will eventually reach a gorgeous lookout of the canyon. For quite a few yards, there is an open area above the cliffside where you can see the beautiful red rock and steep sides of the canyon. There are plenty of opportunities for photos and you can spot many of the helicopters flying around, which detracts from the solitude but doesn’t obstruct the beauty. Here is a great spot to picnic, relax, and take pictures before continuing down to the falls.

One part of the view
A helicopter in the distance!

Once you continue down into the trail, it will get pretty steep, but then you come across the falls! However, these are not the big falls that are seen in the viewpoints (you’re actually above them!), so make sure you understand that in advance to avoid any letdowns. The waterfall that you are able to hike to is Waipo’o Falls, which is smaller, but has a little swimming access. For photos without people in it, you may have to be patient, but it is a good spot to catch your breath nonetheless. The water here is pretty chilly, but tolerable if you are used to colder temperatures like we were.

Waipo’o Falls
Swimming in the chilly waters

After getting soaked in the falls, the climb back will be a lot cooler (I would wear clothes that dry quickly to avoid chafing). The uphill climb to the lookout will be tough, but then from there, the climb is just as up and down as it was on the way there. If you took the trail earlier (I would recommend!), there will be lots of foot traffic so be patient. Since it will be hotter, make sure to stay hydrated as well.

View of the canyon

Overall, this trail was one of my favorites that I have ever hiked, aside from perhaps Sun Gate on Machu Picchu. The views were absolutely stunning and the trail allowed for diverse scenery and beauty. Additionally, this hike is well suited for people in moderate shape (would not recommend for people who can’t afford falling down) and is well marked for easy access.

For more video footage of this hike, check out my video compilation of our adventures in Kaua’i!

Staying in Po’ipū and Kōloa, Kaua’i

To kick off my traveling for 2019, my grandma, aunt, cousin, and I departed to Kaua’i, Hawai’i, in late March for a weeklong break of school and work. We were fortunate enough to tons of fun activities outside, including seeing ocean critters and hiking to waterfalls. Afterwards we were quite burnt, but happy and ready to take a big nap. 

This being said, this is the first of six articles on Kaua’i, not including my video summing up the week. Hopefully amongst my end of the school year commitments, I will be able to publish them in a timely manner, but time will tell. 

Flowers near the resort

We were lucky enough to stay in Po’ipū, which is at the south end of the island and near Kōloa, which is the oldest sugarcane plantation town on the island. It is a half hour-ish drive from Līhu’e, which is the biggest city and home the airport you would fly to. The drive is super pretty, especially because you drive through the tunnel of trees you see on Pinterest and Instagram, which is super pretty. You might also see a bunch of clear cut areas. Don’t worry, it isn’t another example of dangerous deforestation; the people are actually harvesting the trees (that actually aren’t indigenous and serve little purpose to the ecosystem) for biofuel, which they will shortly replant for future use. 

End of the tree tunnel towards the resort

The actual resort we stayed at was Kōloa Landing, which was a big set of buildings bordering the ocean. In the suite we stayed in, we were right by one of the many pools and the soccer and volleyball fields. We used the fields more than the pools and started pick up games with kids from all over the United States, which was a great experience. 

The path outside of the resort

The resort also offered many events and classes throughout the week including but not limited to: lei making, a viewing of Moana by Disney, s’mores sessions, painting lessons, and crossfit and yoga classes. Unfortunately we were out and about during the lei making, which I wanted to do, but my cousin utilized the gym and workout classes, which she enjoyed. 

Birds by the poolside

Also offered there were numerous breakfast, lunch, and dinner options. We ate breakfast there once, but weren’t too enamored with it and soon sought food elsewhere. The lunch was better and I got to try poke which is a raw fish salad. It was super filling and I actually enjoyed it, even if it wasn’t something I would eat all the time. 

Poke

Kōloa Landing was also within walking distance of several shopping centers. Many of these were posh, upscale stores that we had absolutely no budget for, but it was nevertheless fun to look. I bought a puka shell anklet and a few of us bought clothes, but that was about it. These open air stores were pretty common across the island, which was nice in comparison to the stuffy mall complexes we employ in the mainland United States. Not to mention, we went to Lappert’s Hawaii, which had super good and super rich ice cream and sorbet. There are a few of these stores across the island and I would recommend trying it at least once. Shave ice is also common in the centers and are a huge hit. Also in the Po’ipū center, we also went to Savage Shrimp, which had really fantastic shrimp and shrimp tacos, which I would totally recommend. 

Within a brief driving distance or a longer walk, Kōloa itself is nested against the forest. This little town has some more shops, which we bought lots from, a bunch of food trucks, and even a farmers market on a few days. Many of the souvenirs and goods here are homemade or from cheaper brands, making it the perfect place to bring home gifts for family and friends. There are also great opportunities for pictures, especially with the forest nearby. 

Trees in Kōloa

So would I recommend staying Kōloa Landing? Absolutely! It is a great, family friendly resort with fantastic staff, who welcomed us kindly, and has the proximity to any great activity you could want to do. We felt at home and didn’t have anything we wished we had but didn’t. Even if you don’t specifically stay at Kōloa Landing, I would totally recommend this area since it offers a lot of beauty and activities on the south, west, east, and even north coasts, if you are willing to make a day trip. It was absolutely beautiful and the people were super welcoming. 

Adventures in Kaua’i, Hawai’i

Here is my first ever Youtube video for Walks of Namayani! It features the adventures we had during our trip throughout April 2019. More articles will come shortly detailing each in depth!

DAY ONE/TWO: checked into Koloa Landing Resort and explored Koloa’s shops and beaches

DAY THREE: hiked through Waimea Canyon

DAY FOUR: rented kayaks from Wailua Kayak and Canoe and hiked to Secret Falls

DAY FIVE: ziplined with Koloa Ziplines

DAY SIX: took a tour to the Napali Coast with Kauai Sea Tours

Thank you to my grandma and aunt for making this trip happen!