We set off for Diamond Head at 8am. I wondered why a mountain was called “Diamond Head”. The obvious explanation would be that there are diamonds. Turns out I was kind of right.
We took bus #2 and got off at the Kapiolani Community College stop. Across the bus stop, we could see a sea of people at KCC Farmer’s Market, which is open on Tuesdays (4-7pm) and Saturdays (7:30-11am). We planned to get brunch there after we finished our mountain hike.
I had thought there’d be some arrows at the bus stop to direct tourists to the mountain, but there were none. We followed a bunch of people who looked like they knew where they were going, but we found ourselves walking by a cactus garden. We went back to the bus stop and asked for directions, and learned that we had been going the opposite way.
So we headed off in the right direction, and we saw a row of public exercise machines made out of metal. I had never seen these before in Toronto. I thought to myself, ‘The sun is always blazing, so wouldn’t the heated metal burn your skin off?’ As if to prove me wrong, an ex-Marine-looking guy suddenly appeared out of thin air and started to operate the machines expertly. Contrary to the scenario in my head, his hands did not start to combust. I reminded myself that I have a very overactive imagination and kept walking alongside Cinnamon like a normal person.
The moment we started to get some inclination, Cinnamon chattered on about how she is finally going to a mountain, how she always loved to climb mountains, and why the hell doesn’t Toronto have any mountains, and doesn’t the air feel fresher already?
After the initial hill, you find yourself at a vast area of flat land. There is a ticket vending hut, and beyond that, the washroom, and a food truck, which seemed very out of place at first. Beyond all that is the mountain you’ll be climbing.
We were surprised that the entry fee was just a dollar per person. Looking back, we never felt ripped off as tourists during any of our time in Hawaii.
The ticket vendor was managing two queues. There was the line of people who climbed up the initial hill on foot, and there was a long queue of cars that were waiting for a spot in the parking lot. While we were handing our dollar bills to the vendor, the driver in the other line said something, and the ticket guy replied back, “You’ll have to wait. Don’t worry, just wait”. Then the ticket guy turned to face us again, gave us our ticket, and offered us a jolly chuckle that seemed to come out of nowhere, but we could tell it came from a good place. We reciprocated with a giggle. There was nothing funny about the situation and I don’t know why we all laughed the way we did. A laugh is a funny thing because it’s so contagious. It’s a good disease. The ticket seller wasn’t bothered in the least by the backed-up line of angry cars, and I respect him for that.
We saw that the food truck was selling sliced pineapples, and behold, snow cones. We thought, ‘How great would it be if we climbed Diamond Head on this hot day while eating this iconic ice dessert?’, and ordered the rainbow flavor (mix of coconut, strawberry and banana, if I remember correctly).
The rainbow snow cone from the food truck by the mountain.
The return hike on the mountain takes 30-40 minutes. The hiking path is littered with rocks of all sizes, and it can get very steep, so it’s a lot of strain on your knees, ankles and hip. On top of all that, it’s so hot that your clothes will start sticking to you, like the eleven herbs and spices on a KFC drumstick. The hike is not recommended for the elderly, the injured, etc.
The snow cone was such a great idea at first. The more we hiked, the more we regretted our purchase. The path was getting rockier and steeper, and it was hard to balance with a cone in my hand. There was a garbage can at the midway point, and we should have just thrown it away here, but there was still so much snow left, so we decided to throw it away at the next trash can. Well, there was no next trash can, so we were stuck with our cone. To be fair, having a trash can in the middle of a mountain is already an amazing feat. Someone has to come collect the garbage every day, probably multiple times a day.
The snow in the cone melted to a highlighter-colored liquid, and we started drinking it like a bowl of cold soup.
When you’re feeling tired, turn around. You’ll feel compensated.
Everyone moved in a tight line and we had to move quickly so I couldn’t take any pictures, but somewhere along the way near the top, you’ll go through a tunnel. As I went through it, I realized why the word “diamond” is in the name of the mountain. There are lights installed in the ground of the tunnel that illuminate the sparkling jewels on the walls, and it feels like you’re walking right through the middle of a starry night sky.
I’m not sure if they’re real diamonds, but I doubt it. People would try to pick it out of the wall.
The peak. Crowded.
The view from the peak.
The area at the peak was so tight and everyone was cramped together. The view from the top was indeed breathtaking, but I’m partial to the stamps of scenery that I could see when I would turn my head as I climbed up. The more I walked, the more beautiful it got, and it energized me to keep hiking.
There are small pockets of rest area along the way where you can stop and enjoy the view. The walk down is really relaxing, because you are constantly facing the scenery as you hike.
We got our breath back at the rest area, by the washrooms and the food truck. I recommend getting the snow cone after you finish hiking.
KCC Farmer’s Market was in the middle of wrapping up when we finally arrived back there. They were selling grilled abalone, grilled shrimps on a stick, freshly squeezed juices, etc. and other food souvenirs to take home. We helplessly watched as the vendors started putting their goods away and dismantling their white tents.
We carried our empty stomachs to the bus stop, and listlessly waited for our ride among the tourist crowd.
Soon, a van pulled up infront of the stop and the driver got off. The van was empty. The driver stood infront of the crowd and announced that he is scouting 6 people that will each pay $2, and he will drop any number of them off at any hotel they name. I glanced at his van again. It was a plain white van with no indication of it being affiliated to any taxi company. It was a personal taxi. No one moved or said anything. He slumped back to his vehicle and drove off. He came back 10 minutes later, and bargained. He was only asking for 5 people this time, and he will still only collect $2 per person. It’s cheaper than the bus, which is $2.50, and he will drop you off at any hotel you wish, so wouldn’t you come ride in his van? Again, no one responded. Many averted their eyes. Looking even more disappointed than he did at the first rejection, he turned back with lowered shoulders and drove away in his empty van.
The bus came shortly after. People lined up, and each person quietly handed over their $2.50 as they got on.
We were so hungry that we went to Marukame Udon as if under a spell. This is a very popular spot among the tourists and locals.
It’s a well-known udon chain in Japan.
Marukame Udon has the three elements of a fast food chain. Tasty, fast, and inexpensive.
Molded fake food display. How Japanese-y.
There is always a line-up, but it moves fast. This place is not a restaurant, more like a cafeteria. You order, pay upfront and everything is self-serve. The employees were very efficient and people don’t take long to eat the noodles, so we didn’t have to wait for a seat. There is a sign up front that asks customers not to save tables in advance.
Dat price, though.
You can get a bowl of udon for $3.75 – $7.50. That’s crazy.
Cinnamon ordered the limited-time special Nikuzaru Udon, and I ordered the Ontama Udon with the slow-boiled egg. We salivated as we discussed our choices. There are cold, hot, soupy, soupless udons; something for everyone.
We waited around 20 minutes in line. I put my order in and received my bowl in what seemed like 20 seconds. The team was like a well-oiled machine. I took my bowl and let my eyes feast on all the tempura options that was spread out on heated trays. Each tempura piece is around $1.50. You can serve yourself with the tongs provided, and take as many as you like. There were the familiar varieties like squid, shrimp, veggie, but they also had chikuwa, Hawaiian sausage, and whole soft-boiled egg. I already had a nice, oozy egg in my bowl of Ontama Udon so I passed on the whole fried egg, but it’s a very popular item. I also saw three kinds of onigiri and two types of musubi by the cash counter.
Karaage and shrimp tempura. There is an egg hiding behind the mountain of green onion.
Oh, hello, egg. How’s it going down there?
Cinnamon’s Nikuzaru udon; comes with its own sauce. She also got shrimp tempura. Can’t remember if the rectangle is korokke…
Tempura sauce, chopsticks and spoons are self-serve. After you’re done eating, just carry the tray to the drop-off station.
We slurped in harmony, nodding our heads in silent approval as we chewed. The noodles were thick and chewy, and bounced around in my mouth, gently caressing the inside of my cheek.
Feeling full and satisfied, we went back to the hotel and got ready to go shopping.
We had both come with full luggage bags, so we knew we couldn’t really take anything back home. We walked around Kuhio Avenue, Kalakua Avenue and Royal Hawaiian Avenue and window-shopped. There were so many people on the avenues, but when we walked inside any mall or store, it wasn’t busy.
Just me in this big mall…(and Cinnamon too, of course)
While walking around, we passed The Cheesecake Factory multiple times. We always saw tourists scattered about outside, waiting for their table. Cinnamon and I decided to drink the Kool-Aid and have dinner there. We went inside at 6pm to put our name down, and was told to wait an hour.
They had given us a buzzer that will vibrate when our table was ready. An hour and 10 minutes passed by and the buzzer had been lifeless the whole time. We went inside and asked about our table, and it turned out that our name was never entered. The service rep immediately contacted the manager and we were given a table within a minute. He had given us whatever table was available, so we got a nice 4-person table by the open walls.
The interior was Las Vegas-style; everything was huge and fake-looking. I thought I was going to get hypothermia from the jacked-up air conditioning. Did they delegate temperature control to Elsa or something? Thank goodness we were by the open walls, because at least the warmer outside air somewhat neutralized the artificial arctic chill.
The restaurant was packed, so of course it was very loud. Cinnamon and I had to yell at each other to be heard even though we were sitting by each other, so we both started to talk less.
All of a sudden, two elderly musicians started setting up their speakers and microphones in the front of our dining section. They looked and sounded so out of place, with their gentle acoustic music. People were too busy yelling over each other to enjoy their sounds. After each song ended, there were a precious few that clapped out of politeness, but they hadn’t heard a single word that was sung. As I clapped, I made a wish that the musicians would get a better gig next time.
The menu was the biggest I had ever seen. There were pages and pages of options, and we had a hard time making a decision, so we just got recommendations from our waiter. I started to wonder how this establishment could pull off such a huge menu. They would have to have so many stations in the kitchen and have all kinds of ingredients on hand. We each ordered a Lava Flow along with our mains.
After my order was put in, I went to go wash my hands and came back, and the food was waiting for me at the table. I’m exaggerating a little bit here, but I think the food came out within 10 minutes of ordering.
Chicken Bellagio and…I don’t remember what Cinnamon ordered. It was very dark. Dark and cold. Like a solitary confinement cell. Food was pretty good though.
Lava Flow! I couldn’t taste any of the alcohol. Delicious strawberry, coconut and pineapple slushie.
I could taste why this place was popular. The food was good. Another notable thing was the portions. We both ended up with left overs.
We also got a slice of their famous cheesecake to go.
We ate this as breakfast next morning. It was so good. Ours was pumpkin pie flavor.
After we got back from the dinner, we laid on the bed and looked at useless YouTube videos until our eyelids started to feel heavy.