Aloha from Maui (he said)22 Aug 2012
About 10 years ago my very favorite wife turned to me, probably while we were on the deck of a rented sailboat in the Caribbean, and said, “you never take me to Europe!” This after a string of four tropical sailboat charters in an 11 month period (Guadeloupe in July, BVI over New Years, BVI again in April and the Grenadines in June). After another half decade of tropical vacations in the Caribbean, South Pacific and Hawaii, we gradually changed gears and for the past few years have vacationed almost exclusively in Europe. The moral is to be careful what you wish for; I doubt she had any idea that we’d end up owning a boat in France!
So in 2012 it was my turn to say, “you never take me to the tropics anymore!” The night before our flight to Maui last week, she made me agree to her only condition for this trip; that we not purchase any real estate in Hawaii (not that we could ever afford even a garden shed in this place of eternally over-priced homes). And now here we are in the land of “Aloha”.
“Aloha” is a wonderful, all-purpose Hawaiian word that can mean many things, including “hello,” “goodbye,” “I love you,” and even (depending on context, of course), “I wish to decline the collision damage waiver on my car rental contract.” More importantly, it also describes the way in which Hawaiian’s live their lives. There are actually road signs that remind folks to “drive with Aloha.” As an example, Hawaiian drivers will only drive the speed limit if they’re in a big hurry — otherwise they’re content to cruise along at 5-15 mph under the posted speed. Hawaiians also never use their car horn. Honking your horn may actually be a misdemeanor offense here in the islands. In fact, the joke is that a local only uses his horn once per year, during the state’s required annual automobile inspection.
Speaking of inspections, when I used to live in Hawaii many years ago I owned a “Maui cruiser” type car. A car officially qualifies as a Maui cruiser if it meets two of the following three criteria; a) the car is more than 10 years old, b) has visible rust on at least half the body panels, or c) one of the body panels is primer gray. I got extra credit (and surfer credibility) because my car met all three. I probably don’t have to point out that this car would never pass a legitimate state inspection. My first two years on the island I had an acquaintance who ran a small fleet of budget car rentals, and he had a good system for obtaining the required inspection sticker; I gave him an envelope containing $20 cash, and a week later he passed me back the envelope containing the new inspection sticker.
Unfortunately for me (but probably fortunately for the budget car-renting public), his inspection sticker contact (I never knew who) got shut down, so when it came time to get my third sticker, I figured I might as well try and get a “real” state inspection. “Bruddah, you want me to inspect ‘dat? You joking, right?” This from the kind gentleman at an actual state inspection garage; so much for following the rules. I spent the next few days asking around until I got wind of a run-down service station in the “local” part of town. My source said to tell the mechanic that “local Mike” suggested I drop by.
Now I’m normally a pretty straight-laced kind of guy, but I was also a bit desperate. I could not afford a car that would actually meet the relatively strict Hawaii State Vehicle Inspection requirements, and anyway my ’85 Tercel Wagon was perfect – it served as the ideal mobile “toy box”, and could hold two windsurf boards, 3 sails, mast, and booms, plus golf clubs, snorkel gear, swimsuit, and a duffel bag full of towels (more on this later), all of this completely inside the car, no roof racks needed! So I drove my ‘cruiser over to the little gas station in the not-so-good part of town, found the mechanic – a tiny, old Filipino man – and asked if he did inspections.
“No, no inspections here,” was the response I did not want to hear. Dejected, I turned away and began to leave. “Oh, local Mike said I should drop by,” I remembered, turning back around. On hearing the magic words, he glanced around behind him, then looked slowly up the street and down the street. Satisfied he wasn’t on Candid Camera (or something), he walked over to my car, reached in, honked the horn, and said “Ok, you pass, 10 dallah” disappeared inside, and returned with 12 more months of freedom in the form of a fully legit, up-to-date Hawaii State inspection sticker. Score one for embracing local knowledge.
The duffel-full-of-towels story is also one I’m not completely proud of (see: “straight-laced,” above), but hopefully readers will give me some understanding. West Maui is home to Kaanapali Beach, a strip of resort hotels in a beautiful setting, all with gorgeous free-form pools, hot tubs, waterfalls, grottoes, etc. – perfect for a brief bit of relaxation after a client meeting (I was doing free-lance web design at the time) or before a round of golf. Because the common areas were so nice, though, the hotel staff was constantly on the lookout for non-guests crashing the area. Not wanting to have to harass real guests with constant requests for proof of real-guest status, the hotels solved the problem by each stocking a unique color towel that would be given in exchange for a room key. In this way, hotel security could quickly scan the pool area for people (locals like me) without the proper color towel, and quietly shoo them away.
The flaw in their system, though, was to not require the return of the towel at the end of the day. As such, by late afternoon the waterfront on Kaanapali Beach always had several abandoned towels, and in all the different colors. I could stroll along the beach, set down my duffel near a towel, take a dip in the water, then come out and casually pick up the towel along with my duffel and saunter off. Over the course of a few visits I acquired towels from the Hyatt (blue), Marriott (pink), Westin (beige), and Sheraton (two-tone). After that it was a simple matter of choosing which facility I wished to visit, grabbing the proper towel, and setting up shop by the pool. And with the right color towel, what a difference. Instead of asking me if I was indeed a guest, staff were asking if I wanted a drink! I never got up the courage to order a drink and charge it to the Underhills, but a better actor might have pulled it off.
Back to the present, we both arrived on Maui with great anticipation. Almost all of my friends from 15 years ago are still living here, and it was really nice to get back on island time. On the boat in France we always seem to be busy, or going somewhere, or exploring some village or château, but here on Maui, house-sitting (or more descriptively, “mansion-sitting”), we intended to let the days unfold at their own pace. Stop one after collecting our baggage and rental car was to swing by Kanaha Beach Park to look for Johnny Z, who I expected to find windsurfing.
Z is my very best friend on Maui, we’ve had some amazing adventures together. We’re quite the odd couple; he’s a very spiritual, ashram-visiting, jungle-shack-living, fun and wacky guy, whereas I’m…the opposite (see “straight-laced” again). Plus I’m tall. But Z taught me to golf, and taught me to surf, and he showed me the spiritual side of living on Maui, and he showed me how to replace the radiator on my Maui cruiser when I had no money, and we had some great windsurfing and snorkeling and surfing and hiking adventures during the three years I lived on the island. So even though I didn’t know what car he was driving or what windsurf rig he was riding, I was able to pick him out within minutes of arriving at the beach.
Maui seen through the eyes of a local is quite different from the Maui in the travel articles and brochures. The tourist Maui has luaus, 17 golf courses, bike trips from the summit of Haleakala, expensive snorkel cruises, beach bars, and chain restaurants. My Maui is home to an endless array of really varied and interesting hikes, micro-climates, remote snorkel spots, cave swimming, surf spots, local restaurants, and the best windsurfing on the planet. And I guess some golf too, although I can only afford to play at about 20% of the courses.
Since we’re staying in Wailea, many of our daily adventures focus on the area between Maalaea and La Perouse Bays, on Maui’s South Shore. There’s a nice hike at the end of the road past Makena, the old Kings Highway which heads east out of La Perouse Bay. The hike is on, over, and around a lava flow from only a few hundred years ago. Heading back towards Makena, there’s a nice snorkeling spot at the Ahihi Bay reserve. Another mile west brings us to Big Beach, site of a multi-hundred hippie commune back in the 1970′s, but now just a big beach with nice swimming and a sharp shore break. Off the beach of the old Maui Prince Hotel, a few hundred yards out, is “Turtle Town.” One time snorkeling years ago I could see eight big sea turtles at one time. After that the south coast alternates gorgeous resort hotels (Four Seasons, Kea Lani, Grand Wailea, Marriott) with fantastic snorkel spots (Makena Landing, Polo Beach, Ulua Beach, Kamaole Parks II and III).
There are required adventures beyond the South Shore, though, including the road to Hana, a hike across the Haleakala crater floor, stand up paddling (all the kids are doing it), and searching out shows by Willie K, a truly gifted local guitarist and vocalist (and comedian). Oh, and I guess some windsurfing. I seem to spend much more time on the ski slopes these days, but windsurfing is front-and-center in my personal sports hierarchy – and just by chance, Maui is the windsurfing capital of the world! Columbia River Gorge folks will argue the point, but I say why deal with 45 degree water, drysuits, and wicked current when you can have the warm, blue, tropical waters of Maui and true big-wave riding? Johnny Z was generous enough to loan me some of his gear, and we had a good half-dozen fantastic windsurfing sessions.
Our return visit to Maui after a nine year absence was everything we expected it to be, and way more. Connecting with old friends (Tommy G, Gary B, Johnny Z), trying new sports (stand-up paddling), re-learning old ones (surfing), plus our morning snorkel expeditions, plus excursions to Hana and on Haleakala, plus breathing the smells of the island (the sugar plant at Puunene, the jungle scents around Hana), plus wearing only “slippas” (flipflops) for two weeks, it all just took my breath away. Not that I mind our life now, not by any stretch, but I really miss my old island home.
I’ll tell the rest of our Maui story with photos, otherwise this post would run forever, so here they are!