10 July 2008 – Today was our stunning scenery / low activity day. Consequently, Darci hung back to sleep in a bit and do exciting things in Waikiki instead of riding in the car with us. We began our morning by driving out to the Valley of the Temples to check out the Byodo-In temple.
Our purposefully chosen route to the Byodo-In was along the H3 interstate (don’t ask) highway. This is widely considered to be one of our country’s most beautiful interstates. This beauty came at a cost, however. The total price tag for this project was somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.3 billion, which is even more considerable given that the entire length of H3 is just over 15 miles. Work out the math and you’re at just under 90 million dollars per mile. I guess it’s not terribly surprising when you consider that the freeway took some 37 years to build, the first 20 of which were largely devoted to environmental studies. Also a good hunk of the route is accomplished by tunneling through mountains. The article on Wikipedia is fascinating and digs into a bit more detail regarding the politics surrounding the freeway’s construction.
The Byodo-In is a replica of an ancient Buddhist temple in Uji, Japan. It was built in 1960 (the original in Japan was built about 1000 years ago) to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the first Japanese immigrants who worked the sugarcane plantations of Hawaii. The temple is set against a beautiful backdrop of the 2000’ tall, green-covered, often-misty Ko'olau Mountains, and its grounds are wonderfully well-maintained. If you could get past the sound of lawn-care equipment and bus-loads of children, the setting was blissfully peaceful. I whiled away the time while Sean was running around taking photos by watching the swans preen, the turtles and fish swim, and the various land-birds dancing around. The koi were huge and numerous and fun to watch as the swam around, jockeying for position in the fight to get the food that the hordes of children were feeding them. The temple itself was positively serene (at least when it was relatively empty), the 9’ Lotus Buddha watching over us as we studiously photographed the site. This is actually the largest wooden Buddha carved in over 900 years. In an interesting note, this temple is considered nondenominational, and to drive the point home, there are plaques on the inner walls of the main temple representing a variety of different religious groups.
All of our drives in western Oahu had been filled with breathtaking scenery. Often our car windows were filled with rugged coasts, wide sun-kissed beaches, and large mountains, all deeply carved and covered with green. The view of the coast and the mountains from the Pali Lookout was probably the most amazing. In general, I find these mountains fascinating. If you look at a map of Oahu that shows the terrain, you will see two mountain ranges. Here’s the thing – each of those was created by a single volcano. The part you don’t see is that something like half the mountains’ original volume has been eroded away over time to create the strangely fluted forms of these “ranges”. I would love it if a certain geologist / geophysicist friend of mine would help explain to me how that came to be. Regardless of whether I fully grasp the geologic principles involved, it was unspeakably beautiful. This is another case were photos just don’t do it justice. Everyone is mesmerized by the beaches and the big surf in Oahu (and don’t get me wrong, they are incredible) – but I will go back there one day just to be in the middle of those mountains again.
We ate a late Lunch at Ono Hawaiian Foods where we were hoping to score a real Hawaiian plate lunch, but really wound up getting more “lu'au food” instead. Service there was very polite and efficient, and the food was decent enough. (And by this time in our trip, I had admittedly given up on subjecting the rest of the family into my food agenda any longer.) All told, we had a pleasant lunch, and it would be a good place to eat if you elect not to partake of the lu'au scene.
After a luxurious and self-indulgent nap in our hotel room, we walked along Waikiki beach to relax, drink in the sights of the surfers and the sunset and the beach in general, and take some photos. After a suitably long walk west from our hotel (previously we had gone east), we settled down on a bench to watch the sun slowly sink behind the mountains. Once the sun had set and we had helped ourselves to a little more relaxing, we made our way back to the hotel to meet up with the rest of the family to figure out dinner. No one had any specific inclinations beyond keeping it simple, so we opted for Puka Dog again. This time I had the Polish sausage with hot hot mayonnaise, pineapple relish, and guava mustard, and Sean had the sausage with hot mayo, sweet onion relish, and lilikoi mustard. Both dogs were again very tasty and filling. We had a very early morning planned for the next day, so we headed back to our hotel and called it a night.