The Hawaiian Archipelago, by Isabella L. Bird

Letter XXIII.

Lihue. Kauai, April 17.

Before leaving Kauai I must tell you of a solitary expedition I have just made to the lovely valley of Hanalei. It was only a three days “frolic,” but an essentially “good time.” Mr. Rice provided me with a horse and a very pleasing native guide. I did not leave till two in the afternoon, as I only intended to ride fifteen miles, and, as the custom is, ask for a night’s lodging at a settler’s house. However, as I drew near Mr. B.‘s ranch, I felt my false courage oozing out of the tips of my fingers, and as I rode up to the door, certain obnoxious colonial words, such as “sundowners,” and “bummers,” occurred to me, and I felt myself a “sundowner” when the host came out and asked me to dismount. He said he was sorry his wife was away, but he would do his best for me in her absence, and took me down to a room where a very rough-looking man was tenderly nursing a baby a year old, which was badly burned or scalded, and which began to cry violently at my entrance, and required the united efforts of the two bereaved men to pacify it. They had the charge of it between them. I took it while they went to make some tea, and it kicked, roared, and fought until they came back. By that time I had prepared a neat little speech, saying that I was not the least tired, and would only trouble them for a glass of water; and, having covered my cowardice successfully, I went on, having been urged by the hospitable ranchman to be sure to stay for the night at his father-inlaw’s house, a few miles further on. I saw that the wishes of the native went in the same direction, but after my one experience I assured myself that I had not the necessary nerve for this species of mendicancy, and went on as fast as the horse could gallop wherever the ground admitted of it, the scenery becoming more magnificent as the dark, frowning mountains of Hanalei loomed through the gathering twilight.

But they were fifteen miles off, and on the way we came to a broad, beautiful ravine, through which a broad, deep river glided into the breakers. I had received some warnings about this, but it was supposed that we could cross in a ferry scow, of which, however, I only found the bones. The guide and the people at the ferryman’s house talked long without result, but eventually, by many signs, I contrived to get them to take me over in a crazy punt, half full of water, and the horses swam across. Before we reached the top of the ravine, the last redness of twilight had died from off the melancholy ocean, the black forms of mountains looked huge in the darkness, and the wind sighed so eerily through the creaking lauhalas, as to add much to the effect. It became so very dark that I could only just see my horse’s ears, and we found ourselves occasionally in odd predicaments, such as getting into crevices, or dipping off from steep banks; and it was in dense darkness that we arrived above what appeared to be a valley with twinkling lights, lying at the foot of a precipice, and walled in on all sides but one by lofty mountains. It was rather queer, diving over the wooded pali on a narrow track, with nothing in sight but the white jacket of the native, who had already indicated that he was at the end of his resources regarding the way, but just as a river gleamed alarmingly through the gloom, a horseman on a powerful horse brushed through the wood, and on being challenged in Hawaiian replied in educated English, and very politely turned with me, and escorted me over a disagreeable ferry in a scow without rails, and to my destination, two miles beyond.

Yesterday, when I left, the morning was brilliant, and after ascending the pali, I stayed for some time on an eminence which commands the valley, presented by Mr. Wyllie to Lady Franklin, in compliment to her admiration of its loveliness. Hanalei has been likened by some to Paradise, and by others to the Vale of Caschmir. Everyone who sees it raves about it. “See Hanalei and die,” is the feeling of the islanders, and certainly I was not disappointed, nor should I be with Paradise itself were it even a shade less fair! It has every element of beauty, and in the bright sunshine, with the dark shadows on the mountains, the waterfalls streaking their wooded sides, the river rushing under kukuis and ohias, and then lingering lovingly amidst living greenery, it looked as if the curse had never lighted there.

Its mouth, where it opens on the Pacific, is from two to three miles wide, but the boundary mountains gradually approach each other, so that five miles from the sea a narrow gorge of wonderful beauty alone remains. The crystal Hanalei flows placidly to the sea for the last three or four miles, tired by its impetuous rush from the mountains, and mirrors on its breast hundreds of acres of cane, growing on a plantation formerly belonging to Mr. Wyllie, an enterprising Ayrshire man, and one of the ablest and most disinterested foreigners who ever administered Hawaiian affairs. Westward of the valley there is a region of mountains, slashed by deep ravines. The upper ridges are densely timbered, and many of the ohias have a circumference of twenty-five feet, three feet from the ground. It was sad to turn away for ever from the loveliness of Hanalei, even though by taking another route, which involved a ride of forty miles, I passed through and in view of, most entrancing picturesqueness. Indeed, for mere loveliness, I think that part of Kauai exceeds anything that I have seen.

The atmosphere and scenery were so glorious that it was possible to think of nothing all day, but just allow oneself passively to drink in sensations of exquisite pleasure. I wish all the hard-worked people at home, who lead joyless lives in sunless alleys, could just have one such day, and enjoy it as I did, that they might know how fair God’s earth is, and how far fairer His Paradise must be, if even from this we cannot conceive “of the things which He hath prepared for them that love Him.” I never before felt so sad for those whose lives are passed amidst unpropitious surroundings, or so thankful for my own capacity of enjoying nature.

Just as we were coming up out of a deep river, a native riding about six feet from me was caught in a quicksand. He jumped off, but the horse sank half way up its body. I wanted to stay and see it extricated, for its struggles only sank it deeper, but the natives shrugged their shoulders, and said in Hawaiian, “only a horse,” and something they always say when anything happens, equivalent to “What’s the odds?” It was a joyously-exciting day, and I was galloping down a grass hill at a pace which I should not have assumed had white people been with me, when a native rode up to me and said twice over, “maikai! paniola,” and laughed heartily. When my native came up, he pointed to me and again said “paniola;” and afterwards we were joined by two women, to whom my guide spoke of me as paniola; and on coming to the top of a hill they put their horses into a gallop, and we all rode down at a tremendous, and, as I should once have thought, a break-neck speed, when one of the women patted me on the shoulder, exclaiming, “maikai! maikai! paniola.” I thought they said “spaniola,” taking me for a Spaniard, but on reaching Lihue, and asking the meaning of the word, Mrs. Rice said, “Oh, lassoing cattle, and all that kind of thing.” I was disposed to accept the inference as a compliment; but when I told Mrs. R. that the word had been applied to myself, she laughed very much, and said she would have toned down its meaning had she known that!

We rode through forests lighted up by crimson flowers, through mountain valleys greener than Alpine meadows, descended steep palis, and forded deep, strong rivers, pausing at the beautiful Wailua Falls, which leap in a broad sheet of foam and a heavy body of water into a dark basin, walled in by cliffs so hard that even the ferns and mosses which revel in damp, fail to find roothold in the naked rock. Both above and below, this river passes through a majestic canon, and its neighbourhood abounds in small cones, some with crateriform cavities at the top, some broken down, and others, apparently of great age, wooded to their summits. A singular ridge, called Mauna Kalalea, runs along this part of the island, picturesque beyond anything, and, from its abruptness and peculiar formation, it deceives the eye into judging it to be as high as the gigantic domes of Hawaii. Its peaks are needle-like, or else blunt projections of columnar basalt, rising ofttimes as terraces. At a beautiful village called Anahola the ridge terminates abruptly, and its highest portion is so thin that a large patch of sky can be seen through a hole which has been worn in it.

I reached Lihue by daylight, having established my reputation as a paniola by riding forty miles in 7.5 hours, “very good time” for the islands. I hope to return here in August, as my hospitable friends will not allow me to leave on any other condition. The kindness I have received on Kauai is quite overwhelming, and I shall remember its refined and virtuous homes as long as its loveliness and delicious climate.

Hawaiian Hotel. HONOLULU. April 23rd.

I have nothing new to add. Mr. Dexter is so far recovered that I fear I shall not find my friends here on my return. People are in the usual fever about the mail, and I must close this.

I.L.B.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:41