Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Maui 2011: The end of the road

Our last day. It was a good vacation, and a good length, although of course I'd never say no to one more day on Maui.

Luckily, our flight out wasn't until 10 pm, so we had almost a full day to enjoy. We slept right through the sunrise this morning, for a change, and were awakened by full sun on our faces. Ahh.

Michael's snorkeling injuries are looking much better today, although we'll have to be careful about keeping them clean and free of sand, especially the one on his foot. On the other hand, my cough has not improved and if anything has gotten worse. Also, my neck is still from holding my head up while snorkeling yesterday. But otherwise, everything was great.

There was still a lot of wind, but not as much as when we first arrived --- or maybe we just got used to it? But it was quite sunny, and we were keen to take advantage of the break in the clouds to do a little last bit of exploring.

After getting packed and feeding the last of our compost to the worms, we packed our camera and heading back to the trail down to the ocean. It seemed much easier this time, probably because we knew what to expect, and the views were stunning.

The trail started off at the bottom of the lawn below our cabin:

It continued from there into a bit of light woods...

...and let out at a little Thai meditation hut overlooking the ocean. A very peaceful spot.

Below the meditation hut, the trail grew narrower and wilder, with a few strategically-placed ropes along the way to prevent slipping.

Oh, and lots of these guys:

I don't know exactly what kind of spider they were, but they were enormous and they were everywhere. They liked to spin their webs across the trail, so we had to cut quite a few of them down to allow us to pass. I got one on my arm at one point, but managed to fling it off into the bushes --- without screaming like a small child.

And speaking of gross insects, we also spotted a Hawaiian centipede crawling across the trail from under a pile of dead palm leaves. These are the sorts of things that the guidebooks warn you about in big, bright letters: They bite. They sting. They're hideous. Also, they're usually at least six inches long, and the one that we saw did not disappoint in the size department. I swear the thing had muscles. Judge for yourselves:

Eeeeeeewww. Give me a cockroach any day.

Apart from that, the upper trail proceeded without incident, until we got to the marker for the lower part of the trail:

Yeah, no kidding. The rest of the trail was a steep scramble over the rocks, down the cliff to the ocean, aided occasionally by ropes:

We reached the rocky beach just fine and spent a good long while gazing at the water and soaking in the stillness and peace.

There were some great tide pools along the rocks too, inhabited by lots of gray-silver crabs and some mudskipper-looking fish that had their fins at the bottom, so it looked like they were doing pushups in the water.

After breathing the sea air for a while, we explored the pools at the foot of the waterfall:

They weren't quite deep enough for proper swimming, but we waded a bit and enjoyed the feel of the sunshine on the warm rocks.

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and with one eye on the clock, we said farewell to the ocean and climbed back up the trail.

We took our last outdoor shower, ate some lunch, and did our last bit of relaxing in the Bamboo Temple before departing up the "magic driveway." On our way out, we stopped for one last drinking coconut at the same stand where we'd gotten our first, just outside of Pa'ia. At this point, it clouded over and started to rain, so we spent a little time talking to the woman who ran the stand: She and her husband were from El Salvador, but they'd fallen in love with Maui and had moved a few years ago to raise tropical fruit.

We were hoping that the rain would subside before we had to get back on the road, but no such luck. So we kept going anyway, driving towards Kahului, and our reward for doing so was the brightest and most brilliant rainbow I've ever seen --- and a double, too.

The conditions must have been just perfect, because it lasted for the entire hour-long drive between Kahului and Lahaina, and even beyond. I've never seen anything like it.

When we got to Lahaina, we parked on the outskirts of town, to avoid the crowds, and walked in. It was just 5:30 at this point and we hadn't made any firm plans about dinner, so we decided to try our luck at Cheeseburger in Paradise --- a cheesy tourist-trap serving mostly burgers (duh) and deep-fried deliciousness right on the water. Yesterday there was an hour-long wait, so we didn't think we'd be able to make it in, but to our surprise they were able to seat us immediately.

As mentioned, it was ridiculously touristy, with all the waitstaff (even the men) wearing grass skirts and loud Hawaiian shirts, cutesy names for everything on the menu, and little cocktail umbrellas stuck into all the burger buns. It was the sort of place that just begged me to order a pina colada, so I did.

It was expensive, but whatever, the drinks were strong, and the food was tasty, and our waiter was really chill, despite the obnoxious crowd.

After dinner, we strolled along the waterfront and watched the sun set, one last time:

Then it was goodbye to the banyan tree and hello to the microscopic Maui airport.

The trip is over, my 20s are over, and soon I'll be back at work, immersed in stress. It's going to be hard to remember the peace and happiness that we found on the island in the weeks ahead, but I will certainly try.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Maui 2011: A snorkel or two

We woke up to the sunrise again --- no comparison to yesterday, of course, but far more lovely than the one from the Retreat two days ago.

After breakfast, we drove out to the west coast with our swim gear and masks, aiming to rent some fins and find a good place to snorkel. I'd been toying with the idea of booking a trip out to Molokini Crater, since that's supposed to have to best diving reef near the island, but that would have meant another very early morning and very long day. After yesterday's exertions, a more low-key plan was called for.

We picked up our fins at an awesome dive shop in Kihehi, where the staff recommended that we try entering off "the graveyard" --- a rocky cove behind a pump house just north of Makena Bay. Sorta here-ish:

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We got a little confused trying to find it, but eventually stumbled on the right place. The entry was extremely rocky. I had a lot of trouble getting my fins on in the surf, and Michael got a little battered around while waiting for me. We did make it out, finally, despite a strong current, and found some really awesome coral.

We were only able to stay out about 20 minutes or so, though --- Michael's mask kept fogging up, and I was still coughing a lot, which is not a good thing when breathing through a snorkel. Re-entering the cove wasn't much better, and Michael actually cut his foot open on a rock and sustained a few other scrapes from being washed up onto the shore. Poor baby. Although the guy at the surf shop had predicted we'd see turtles in the water, we didn't, but there was a gigantic one tucked into a little rock cave just to the side of our entry point. It was easily as long as I am tall, but it actually might well have been dead, since it wasn't moving and didn't seem to respond to the water splashing on its back feet. We didn't want to get close enough to check, although we did mention it to the surf shop guy when we returned our gear, just in case.

After that rocky (ha!) start, we drove a few minutes up the road to Makena Bay Beach proper and launched back in, much more smoothly this time, off of the glistening white sand. That was more like it. There was some awesome coral and fish just a little way out and to the right of the beach. Snorkeling off of Green Island on the Great Barrier Reef has kinda spoiled me for other locations, but I must say that this was pretty close.

I didn't know the names of any of the fish we saw, although I'm almost certain that one of them was the state fish of Hawai'i: the humu­humu­nuku­nuku­āpua'a (got that?), or reef triggerfish:

We stayed out about an hour or so, then took a break on the beach with some sandwiches and the remainder of our coconut candy.

Never ones to be content with what we've already got, we drove to a third beach to try our luck in the water: Malu'aka, where we'd been a few days ago, but down at the other end. First, we rested up a bit in the sunshine...

...then took to the water for the third time, off the left side of the beach, to great success. Both here and at Makena Bay it was quite calm, with a little silt but generally good visibility, and at one point we just hovered in the water, watching and listening to the fish go about their business. There were more humuhumu...whatever fish here, and some catfish-looking ones too, digging in the sand with their whiskers.

We stayed out only a short while this time, then had a lie-out on the beach blanket and congratulated ourselves on a day well-spent.

On our way back to the surf shop to return our fins, we stopped along the road for a drinking coconut and for a quick detour to the southernmost end of the road at La Pérouse Bay. This was the site of the last volcanic eruption on the island and the landing point of the French explorer of the same name. As on Haleakal­ā, it looked like Mars.

We actually weren't supposed to have driven here. The rental car contract was screaming at us not to take the car past the end of the highway, although honestly I'm not sure why. The roads were super-narrow, but they were well-paved and all of the drivers were very polite about passing. It certainly wasn't any more dangerous than driving up the volcano, and quite possibly safer. Must be some old prejudice.

On our way back north, Michael couldn't resist stopping for a taco at this roadside stand:

They can cater your next party!

Then we continued up the coast to Lahaina, in search of a nice island dress for me, to go along with Michael's new Hawaiian shirt. I didn't have much luck at first --- the stuff was either too kitchy for words or just didn't fit at all --- but then stumbled on Katrina's Boutique, a little jewel of a clothing store run by a very knowledgeable and very pushy Israeli. She took a liking to me immediately and saw it as her duty to dress me up properly, taking care about issues of height and body type, all the while keeping up an endless stream of chatter. I ended up with two absolutely stunning dresses and had the best time I've had shopping in ages.

To celebrate my success, we took a stroll around old Lahaina and visited the famous banyan tree, which was planted in 1873 takes up an entire square:

That's ALL ONE TREE, folks.

Following our stroll, we stopped for drinks at one of the many bars along the waterfront and watched the sun set. How delightfully stereotypical.

The thing of it was that I hadn't yet seen a sunset on Maui, only sunrises, in general defiance of the usual tourist agenda. But that's just the kind of iconclast I am.

We went back to Pa'ia for dinner at the all-vegetarian Vietnamese restaurant Fresh Mint, which was absolutely delicious: summer rolls cut sushi-style, ginger "beef" and a "fish" hot pot. Then it was back to the cabin to watch the moon rise, clean out the cut on Michael's foot, and collapse.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Maui 2011: Solstice Sunrise at Mount Haleakalā

In a fitting start to spring, we woke up nearly three hours before dawn, skipped breakfast, piled on every scrap of warm clothing we'd brought, and drove up a 10,000-foot dormant volcano to watch the sun rise.

The drive took about an hour and forty-five minutes. We passed through dramatic patches of wind and rain and clear along the way, followed by a very bright full moon. At one point, it was so misty and the moon was so bright that there was actually a rainbow --- or, I suppose, a moonbow --- cast in the raindrops by the light of moon, ghostly and drained of color against an ominously black backdrop.

We reached the park without incident, passing a few slowpokes along the way who couldn't handle the steep and windy mountain road. Our admission was still good from our visit to 'Ohe'o Gulch on Friday, so we went straight through. We arrived at the peak at around 5:45. It wasn't dark at all because of the bright moon, and the eastern sky was just starting to fade.

Full moon, bright enough to cast shadows
The summit viewpoint was already quite crowded with cars and people when we got there, and it was extremely windy. And I mean extreme: The weather at the Retreat was 70 degrees and calm, and on the summit it was closer to 37 (yes, Farenheit!) with sustained winds of 35 miles per hour and gusts up to 50. There wasn't really any shelter, since the ranger station was already packed with people, so we huddled at the east-facing rail with the rest of the crowd, trying and generally failing to stay warm. Eventually, Michael and I found a few rocks to perch on just behind the wall of the ranger station, where the wind was blocked somewhat but where we could still get a clear view.

As we watched, the sky gradually blossomed with pink and orange, and then burst into fiery red. The cloud layer that we'd driven through to get to the peak was glowing like hot coals. When the sun finally did rise, the crowd let out a gasp as one --- it was an absolutely magical moment.

People started dispersing soon after the sunrise, about 6:30, so Michael and I were able to edge our way into the ranger station and find a spot to watch out of the windows, rather than continuing to freeze at the rail outside. The rising of the sun had done nothing to help the weather, and it was still very cold and windy.

Despite that, I was feeling up for a hike, wanting to explore the summit area a bit more. But Michael was tired from the drive and (perhaps wisely) didn't want to wander too much in the cold, thin air. But we agreed that it would be a shame to leave the summit without at least trying the beginning of the trail down, so we followed it for the first few hundred feet beyond the main parking lot.

If the clouds hadn't been there, I could have believed that we were on the moon.

The landscape was dotted with craters from the volcano, and there was nothing green or growing as far as the eye could see.

After twenty minutes or so of having sand blown in our eyes and losing feeling in our toes, we went back to the car and drove down through the clouds to the main ranger station, at a more manageable 7000 feet.

Outside the ranger station, they'd planted a small grove of endangered silversword plants, which grow only on this mountain and nowhere else in the world. They'd been decimated by human activity and but are currently being reintroduced slowly along the trails.

When I say this plant was silver, I mean it. Not "silver" because it's kind of gray or kind of blue or kind of reminds one of silver --- no, actually shiny silver, like it had been dipped in mercury. Amazing.

We'd settled on the short Hosmer Grove loop trail to explore the area, and though it wasn't quite the 10-hour summit-to-sea kind of excursion that I'd been hoping for, it was lovely and just the right length. We saw a few different kinds of honeyeaters along the way, and when we rounded the corner at the first lookout point, there was even a woman playing a ukulele to complement the birdsong.

After finishing the walk, we stripped off four or five layers of clothing and drove back to the cabin for lunch and a well-deserved nap. Then we decided to explore the grounds a bit, to make up for the missed hiking opportunities this morning. However, as previously noted, the map that they'd given us was completely hopeless as a guide: letters mixed with numbers in the key, some letters used more than once, some letters appearing on the map with no explanation, and nothing actually laid out on the map in any kind of spatial relation to where it actually was in real life, as far as I could tell. Seriously lacking in representational accuracy.

So we just gave up and walked around. With no help from the map, we managed the find the trail down to the ocean and decided to give it a go. It was much more rugged than we expected, but we kept egging ourselves on until we got to the beach. It was hard going there for a while, hanging onto ropes so as not to lose our footing, which more than made up for the fact that we hadn't done more than a quick nature walk this morning.

The beach itself was entirely rocks (well, some washed-up coconuts and driftwood too), but there were a few inviting pools at the foot of the waterfall as it spilled out into the ocean. We'll have to find some other time to come back and have a swim, since today it was threatening rain. We watched the surf for a while and then climbed back up.

Weird thing of the day #1: We'd picked up some pinot to have as a before-dinner drink, and it came with this wacky environmentally-friendly closure called a Zork:

Not the easiest thing to get off, but it basically guarantees the wine won't be corked. I somehow can't see it catching on, though.

Weird thing of the day #2: There was a set of Native American tarot cards called The Sacred Path in one of the drawers in the room (right next to the Ram Dass books and under the whalesong CDs), so I decided (after a few glasses of the pinot) to give myself a reading. Check it out:

I think it means that I'm going to go on a great journey and encounter the mysteries of the universe in order to restore my faith in my goals. Or something like that.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Maui 2011: Maui Time

Now this is what I'm talking about.

We're officially on Maui time today. We only barely managed to get up for the sunrise, which was clear and beautiful, and then rested in bed for a while. Despite this early promise of a clear day, it poured rain on and off for the rest of the morning, so we headed out as soon as we could.

Our first destination today was the Kahului Swap Meet. (Their fresh-from-1993 website should actually give you a good feel for it.) I love going to markets when I'm traveling, since they're one of the best ways to really get the pulse of a place. Unfortunately, this plan was nearly derailed by the fact that the Swap Meet had moved since our guidebook had been published, and there was nothing there when we got to the designated address. Luckily, Yelp was on hand to save the day, and we were soon headed in the right direction. As soon as I saw people wandering around with gigantic bags of popcorn, I knew we were in the right place.

We strolled through the stands for an hour or so, checking out the wares: nice jewelry, crap jewelry, Hawaiian shirts made in China, floral print dresses, art, woodcarvings, local produce, massages, spiritual healing (Did you know that lava rocks will align your quantum energy fields? It's totally true!), a little food. We picked up some handmade chopsticks and chopstick rests, but managed to resist the rest of the wares. But we did get one of the aforementioned gigantic bags of popcorn, and it was awesome: a little salty, a little sweet, a little charred, and super-crispy. Exactly the right sort of thing to accompany us to our next stop...

View Larger Map

Malu'aka Beach. At least, I think it was Malu'aka. There are so many beaches along the southwest coast that it's hard to tell which one actually corresponds to the tiny undesignated parking lot at which one is currently located. But heck, what does it matter what the place was called --- it was perfect. There was a little strip of shade under the trees at the back, a gorgeous spread of sand, sparkling blue water, and pod of playful humpback whales slapping their fins just offshore. We got a good view of the half-submerged snorkeling mecca of Molokini Crater, too:

We laid out for a bit, then took a dip (along with the car keys. Oops. The transponder seems to have survived all right, so no one mention it to the rental agency, 'kay?). I saw a dark shape in the water that I thought might be a sea turtle, but turned out to be just a rock. Drat.

After swimming a bit, we pulled up stakes and headed north up the road, seeking a little variety. Big Beach was too crowded to park at, so we ended up instead at the gorgeous and aptly-named Polo Beach, backed up against the tony resorts and fringed by beautiful people and equally beautiful scenery.

We swam a bit, but since it was very hot out by this point, we headed back to the Retreat before too long for showers and a bite of dinner. Rather than cooking in, we drove into Pa'ia for a bit of pre-dinner shopping and pizza at Flatbread Pizza. The shopping was much more of a success for Michael than for me; he picked up a lovely new Hawaiian shirt, the real deal, at a shop called Moonbow. But most of the women's shops were selling modern-style stuff and overpriced crap, and not the sort of more native apparel I was looking for. So I went empty-handed.

Dinner, luckily, was a roaring success all around. We got a large pizza, half mac-nut pesto with olives and half roasted-tomato marinara with Maui onions and goat cheese. Oh yeah. It poured rain on and off through dinner, drumming on the tin roof at the outdoor seating area, but it had the good sense to let up just as we came out and popped next door for dessert at the Ono Gelato Company.

The weather remained unsettled all the way back to the Retreat, with dark storm clouds scudding overhead and a bright full moon peeking out between them. I'm a bit worried about the weather, since we're planning to get up early tomorrow to drive up to the top of the dormant volcano to see the sunrise, but it should blow over by then. And if not, we're going anyway. I didn't come this far not to try it. So I'll need to sleep fast --- the alarm is set for 3:45.