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Trip 26 -- Oahu Walk

Day 5: Pupukea to Laie
Saturday, May 15, 2021

Today: 26908 steps/20.82 km/12.94 mi/3h 54m
Total: 161422 steps/122.14 km/75.89 mi/23h 47m

Yesterday I gave my feet a rest and absorbed the vibe of Pupukea. Foodland was a hub of activity, and the patrons were casual, entering barefoot or shirtless or in beachwear. A man who'd forgotten his mask simply removed his shirt and tied it around his face. Most of the prices seemed high, even for a remote island, but nearly all items could be had at a slight discount for members of the loyalty program.

"I suppose I'll need to get one of your cards," I said as I was checking out. For all I pay attention to frequent-flyer and hotel programs, I get exasperated by supermarket clubs. Just give everyone the discount and be done with it.

"What's your phone number?" the cashier asked, smiling.

I told her. I thought I detected a slight flinch at the mention of a non-Hawaii area code.

"Next time you can just type it in," she said.

"Thank you for making it so easy!" No physical card to deal with, no filling out a form with oversized spaces -- this was a store program I could get behind.

The parking lot contained a surprising number of pickup trucks, suggesting a local crowd -- people don't usually rent those for holidays. This year they might -- so many rental agencies sold off inventory during the pandemic that normal cars are going for upward of $600 per day, so people are resorting to trucks and U-Hauls -- but the pickups seemed especially abundant at Foodland. Pickups were also parked along the beach, with the passengers having low-key tailgate sessions.

Directly across from Backpackers Hawaii was Three Tables Beach, named for the flat protrusions of coral rock slightly offshore. The morning tide was calm. As I approached the water, a girl about ten years old exclaimed, "It's so cold!" Not what I wanted to hear.

But everything is relative. It was no Zanzibar, but the ocean was of a warmth a New Englander can only dream of, and impeccably clear. The floor was a mix of large rocks and sand, and a steep slope brought me to about neck depth. The area was popular with snorkelers, who would swim out around the tables; some dove from them.

The girl was an expert swimmer. As I departed, she shouted, "So cold! But just what we needed on a hot day!"

I walked up the street beside Foodland, which wound its way into the hills. Joe Sharkey must have lived somewhere around here, and so does Paul Theroux himself, for part of the year, with his chickens and geese. The views from the homes at the top of the hill must be marvelous.

I took the side street toward Pu'u O Mahuka Heiau, a stone temple in use for ceremonies and offerings until 1819, for the honor of gods of peace or war, depending on the season. With an area of 1.75 acres, it was the largest such temple on Oahu. It overlooked Waimea Bay, and communication between the temple and Kauai island was accomplished via signal fires.

The view of the Waimea curve, and all the way to Kaena Point, was stunning, and the access road took me through fragrant forest. I hoped the little trail to the side of the site would bring me back down to sea level, but it looped me back around to the temple, so I got to follow the winding road one more time.

Like many others, I picked up some Foodland poke for lunch, both from previously frozen tuna and from considerably more expensive fresh tuna. I brought it over to Banzai Pipeline, the location of some of Oahu's biggest waves, where one can surf oneself swiftly into a coral wall if not careful.

The surf was pretty calm yesterday, though, and no one was in the water except a man in a wetsuit near the shore. Here there was some chop, and he was happy as a sea turtle to let the waves toss him about. I saw more of his feet than his head, and for a moment I wondered whether he was struggling, but then he stood up and took a few breaths before submerging himself once again.

Back at Three Tables, the waves had picked up, and I spent the sunset hour watching a group of 15 or so. Most were heavily tattooed, and one bearing a studded bikini top folded her arms as she entered the water, as if trying to keep it dry. (A friend of mine once bought a bikini that she wasn't supposed to get wet -- form over function, indeed.) They all seemed to enjoy being carried to and fro at the whim of nature. "It's like a carnival ride!" one guy yelled.

I still wondered who the people of Pupukea were. The town had no hotels -- Backpackers Hawaii was the closest thing, and it had just a few rooms -- and no proper restaurants. Some people drove to the beach for the day.

I picked up a burrito of ono (wahoo) -- a meaty fish, slightly fishier than tuna -- and brought it back to my rustic house. While I ate, Jen and Alec, visiting from Santa Barbara, arrived with their Thai food.

"That looks good!" I said.

"It's from Panda's," Jen said. "Food truck, a few minutes up the road." She gestured toward Banzai Pipeline.

"A crackhead hangs out there," Alec said.

"Her name is Marge," Jen added. "She's very nice."

"I'll pass there on my way out tomorrow," I said. "But it might be too early for a meal."

Like me, Alec had been inspired to ride trains after reading Paul Theroux's "The Great Railway Bazaar." I explained my Abecedarian Walks project, and they chimed in with suggestions -- I didn't mind; maybe I'd hear of a place I hadn't considered -- right down to Catalina Island in California.

We discussed the peculiarities of the house and the vague distribution of the amenities. "There's a little olive oil up there, the salt's over there, the coffeepot's downstairs," Alec said.

I showed them the charming teacup out of which I was drinking wine; there were no proper glasses and not even a pair of matching plates.

"The refrigerator was rolling around," Alec said.

"I noticed that!"

"I found a piece of loose coral rock and jammed it into place. Now it doesn't move," he said. "And the door squeaks."

He applied some oil to the refrigerator door's hinge, mitigating its moan somewhat.

"I used to work in a bookstore and the same thing was happening," he said. "It was the door to the lounge in the back. I fixed it, and people were asking, 'What happened to the door? What happened to the door?' Turns out it was like that on purpose, so they could hear people coming back. I got in trouble for fixing it."

Jen had been to Oahu; Alec hadn't. They were on a week-long snorkeling trip.

"It was beautiful today," Jen said. "We saw sea turtles. Then I saw an eel. And that was that."

The other couple was from San Diego. They had come to surf but been less than impressed with the height of the waves. And there were a pair of women from Denver, who had come looking for the oil long before Alec had shown me where it was. So these were at least some of the people of Pupukea last night.

Foodland had featured canned beverages made from yerba mate, and I drank one before bed, enjoying the refreshment but forgetting that they're loaded with caffeine. I was in bed by eleven but awake for several hours. I heard occasional, brief downpours, only 15 seconds at a time. I half-dozed off into a dream of being on a narrow beach, with the approaching tide squeezing me in. An early-rising rooster began singing at a quarter to three. Somehow that lulled me to sleep.

I considered the positive: less sleep last night meant that I'd go to bed early tonight, and I have a very long walk tomorrow. I rose and, after waiting for a brief shower to pass, headed out, keeping my shirt off in an effort to fit in with the beachgoers.

There was a good bike path along the beach, often hidden from the road, which meant I missed Panda's and Marge. The path went away but the shoulder was wide, and after two and a half hours I rounded Oahu's northernmost point and reached Rainbow House Shave Ice.

Children were eating technicolor snow in piles the size of bowling balls. Their dad told me this was the best shaved ice on Oahu. I'd never had it. I chose a combination of mango and passion fruit.

The orange mountain arrived, bearing waterfalls resembling pastry glaze. Somewhere under there was a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Well, it was fantastic. The sugary slush tickled my tongue, which demanded more and more. By some miracle of science ("Your head is hot from the air," the dad said) the concoction didn't give me a brain freeze. It melted at the perfect rate, so that after I'd chiseled away at the pile with a spoon for ten minutes, I was ready to drink it from the straw. Absolutely marvelous.

A few minutes farther along was the Fumi's Kahuku Shrimps truck. I joined a line of about ten people and prepared myself for a wait, but they doled out the orders almost as soon as they received them. Seating was off to the side at picnic tables, and it was almost full, largely due to an island bus tour.

They grill the shrimp with the shells on, to preserve flavor, and I didn't bother removing them. I chose the spicy garlic sauce. The shrimp were plump and, like all Hawaiian plate lunches, came atop two scoops of rice. There are several shrimp trucks on the north shore and I'm not sure there's much of a difference, but I was quite pleased with the tingle on my tongue and the firmness of the shrimp.

Fifteen minutes later I came to the giant wheel that marks the old Kahuku Sugar Mill, in use from the 1890s to 1971 and the terminus of Dillingham's railway, which stretched from Honolulu clockwise halfway around the island. The former mill site now contains about a dozen more food trucks, and I had another shaved ice at Wili Wili's, this time of the lychee, cherry, and lemon-lime variety. I preferred Rainbow House, where the flavors seemed more subtle and less sugary, but I skipped the ice cream at Wili Wili's, so perhaps that affected the ranking. Taking every opportunity to have shaved ice in Hawaii wouldn't be a bad idea.

From here it was less than an hour to the only hotel on the north shore, the ridiculously overpriced Courtyard by Marriott, where I realized it was probably time to put on a shirt. My $320 room -- rebooked from $384, $355, and $346, whenever I saw the price go down -- was on the ground floor and looked out onto Kamehameha Highway, though to be fair it was quite large and beyond the highway was the ocean. The beach was poor here; there were few access points among all the "No trespassing" and "Keep out" signs, and at least at the time I arrived the tide was too far in for there to be space to walk -- much like in my dream.

Heading out to Laie Point was more rewarding, with a view of a window rock formation -- a neat open rectangle inside a giant frame, like an old TV set -- and miles and miles of wiggly shoreline to the south, which constitutes tomorrow's walk.

Next to the Courtyard was the Polynesian Cultural Center, a kind of theme park devoted to six Polynesian islands, with restaurants and gift shops. They also have a theatre, but the performance was sold out and all the exhibits were about to close by the time I arrived. Still, I ate at the Pounders restaurant on the grounds, the only full-service place in Laie. It was much better than I expected for theme-park cuisine; the giant taro chips and rich smoked-marlin spread (a Laie specialty, according to the menu) and macadamia-crusted mahi mahi over ulu (breadfruit) mash gave me a bunch of samplings of Hawaiian foods I hadn't yet gotten to try.

Determined to get something more than sleep for my $320, I spent some time in the Courtyard's hot tub -- but not too much; tomorrow's 28 miles demands an early start.

Go on to day 6