Kauai boasts the distinction of having the ‘wettest spot on Earth’. Smack dab in the middle of the island is the ancient volcanic crater from which the island was born in a fiery cataclysm some 5 million years ago. Sheer cliff walls rise 3000 feet into the air on 3 sides of the crater, with the fourth (east) side having eroded long ago. The prevailing Easterly winds are scooped like a funnel right up the face of the crater and forced to dump their cargo of moisture as they cool and condense. The top of the crater is called Mount Waialeale, and gets over 11,000 mm of rain as an annual average. That’s 36 feet of serious precipitation. The resulting swamp at the top of the mountain is mostly devoid of life, as little can grow with that much water, and so little sun under nearly continuous cloud cover. Flowing out of the crater is the largest and most sacred river on the island, the Wailua, also famous for being featured in the opening scene of the first Indiana Jones movie.
Now far be it for Americans to boast beyond reason, or base fact on speculation, but the figures used to make the “wettest spot on Earth” claim come from the early part of the 20th century, and as such may be inaccurate today. There are two places in India and two in Columbia which achieve similar amounts of rainfall, but neither country seems to feel the issue is one worth bragging about or contesting. Of course, I should probably avoid drawing too much attention to this lest I start an international incident. The last thing the U.S. needs is another excuse to instigate violence against any nation for rights to resources. I would hate to hear how some mountain in Columbia was bombed due to ‘terrorist factions’ hiding in the hills with weapons of misdirection…
Geopolitical facts aside, there is a reason I bring all this up. As you drive along the East side of Kauai, the mountain is visible in the distance. At least, the cloud cover is visible, as the mountain itself is rarely without cloud. I found myself staring at this dense fog every time we drove through Kapa’a or Lihue, much to the concern of the passengers in the car. I was obsessed with getting just a glimpse of the top of the mountain, and came to the conclusion that the only way to do this would be to drive there, to the heart of the crater.
And yet, every time I would say, “Let’s drive up the washed out, bumpy, rocky, seven-and-half-kilometers of mountainous bush road through several stream crossings, to sit in a boggy crater,” I was met with blank stares, or cries of “Beach, Beach, BEACH, BEACH!” And so I resigned myself to waiting for an opportunity to arise where I might dash off for a few hours of backcountry adventure. Patience paid off, and that day came. I had finally resigned myself to settling down from all the hectic running-around-and-enjoying-life nonsense, and getting caught up on my writing. I was getting weeks behind on my blog entries, and was feeling the pressure of chronicling our travels before the details had escaped my mind.
As it happened, Cyrus’s Uncle T had flown into Kauai, and had organized a group of people to go up to the crater. Torn by my dilemma, I realized that living the adventure was more important than writing about it. And so we went, a merry caravan, bound for the bottom of the wet spot. There’s not much I can tell you about the drive, other than it was your average bumpy mountain road with the odd stream crossing. Trent was driving a VW Cabriolet, and seemed to have little difficulty navigating the rough terrain, although there were times when I felt that our SUV was going to have a rough go of it, nearly drowning the engine in the deep water.
When we got to the end of the road, Cyrus, his cousin J, and Uncle T went one way to find a swimming hole, while P (Cyrus’s uncle) N (Cyrus’s dad), myself and the rest went further up to the stream. The river, which is half a kilometer wide where it meets the ocean, was only a small stream at this point, less than twenty feet wide. The crater top itself was obscured by clouds, but that didn’t stop us from all swimming in the various pools that formed at places in the river. After enjoying the pristine cool waters for about an hour, the moment we had been waiting for arrived, and the clouds parted just for long enough for us enjoy a glimpse of the mountaintop. At that point, a helicopter appeared from the South, also intent upon capturing this rare moment, and I kept my fingers crossed lest they meet the fate of far too many other helicopter tours on the island, as much as I would have welcomed a break from the drone of machine.
But our journey was not over, no no. We went back to gather Uncle T and the gang, and as it turned out, they were just returning from their own expedition, and insisted we follow them back to place of magic and wonder they had found. A swimming hole below a waterfall with a rope swing is one thing, but having to hike through a 700-meter-long tunnel under a mountain ridge to get there? That is an adventure! Of course, we had the option of taking the trail over the ridge to get there, but where’s the fun in that?
With Cyrus as our trusty navigator, Violet and I followed the dim light of his headlamp, with me stooping over to avoid bumping my head on the tunnel ceiling. There was about 3 inches of water flowing through the tunnel, remnants of a past life as an irrigation channel. This made a nice sploshing sound as we tramped through the half-darkness. Although it was completely safe, there was a slightly eerie feeling to it all. Perhaps the fears bred in us from a lifetime of horror movies gives the imagination room to wander, although even Violet, who had never seen a horror movie, seemed to pick up on it.
When Cyrus found the toad, it was sitting perched on a tuft of root growing down through a crack. We took a short break to check him out, and Violet bent over to have a closer look. It was at that precise moment the toad decided to take a flying leap, right into Violet’s lap. Completely defying gravity, Violet jumped several feet into the air and clung onto my neck, shrieking and holding on for dear life. Trying not to laugh as I held her, she looked at me and said, eyes wide open and full of worried concern, “Daddy, do frogs bite?” No longer able to contain my laughter, I reassured her that frogs were, in fact, harmless, and were probably more scared of her than she of them.
Following the light at the end of the tunnel, we came to the sort of place from which memories are made, the halcyon moments of mirth and magic. In the center of the end of the earth, we had found our own little piece of paradise. Sometimes the adventure we find is not the one we were seeking, but the one we needed.