When I first visited California, I was amazed at the profusion of unfamiliar plants: everywhere I looked was green, and even the weeds seemed exotic. I revisited this wonder again in Hawaii. Like Miami, all of the opulent tropicalism that arid California tries so hard to create occurs naturally here. It was very different from any place I am familiar with, yet I could imagine myself living on Maui - a feeling usually reserved for large cities in the Old World style.
We arrived in the wooden, open-air airport in Maui on a Friday afternoon. I immediately changed into shorts, showing off my "healthy pallor" (which incidentally didn't change much in the eleven days, thanks to high SPFs). We rented a Jeep to get around. The low-lying shopping district around the airport sported many of the usual bland consumerist mainstays; we stopped at a Border's Books to pick up the travel guide a friend recommended (definitely the best investment of the trip). Much of the rest of the island had a different flavor altogether. Aside from the fairly consistent infrastructure of roads, electricity, and water, it was sometimes easy to forget that Maui was a part of the developed world. Much of the island had a decidedly (and probably purposefully) rural feel. The island - aside from the very wasteful sugar fields - also seemed very environmentally conscious. The houses to the north-east of our hotel all had solar panels. Everywhere were reminders to conserve and tread lightly. That first evening, we checked into our cavernous "one bedroom" (plus two baths, a kitchen, and a living room) hotel room, got some lovely "shave ice" and some groceries, and watched the sunset on the beach.
We spent our first full day driving up around the west end of the island, through Lahaina to the Blowhole and Olivine Pools. I had my first snorkeling experience in the real ocean (as opposed to swimming pools in Utah) at the Black Rock, and marveled that hundreds of beautiful, colorful fish - many of which I had seen in some of my favorite kids' books but never live - were just ... hanging out just offshore. dag29580863 got drenched at Nakalele Blowhole, and even captured it on video. We returned to Lahaina for a fancy "authentic" lu'au, where I felt more stuffed than I have for years.
Late that night, after we had returned to the hotel, a thunderstorm hit. The storm and my vacation experiences mingled with my dreams in bizarre ways. I had one dream that I was going to a bab5 sleepover. rebbyribs showed me a movie featuring fanlain and hukuma sitting in a convertible and talking, the latter affecting his speech in funny ways for the camera. Then we went to a cavernous room with a kitchen at one end, which reminded me of a room in a high-school friend's house. Many people were in the kitchen talking. Several people recited poems to me - I wish I had gotten up and written them down immediately, though perhaps the dream just included the impression of hearing a poem rather than the poem itself. I had vivid dreams like this every night on Maui, adding to the surreal nature of the whole holiday.
The next day we drove up to the 11,000 foot summit of Haleakala, hoping to escape the drizzle below but encountering slushy snow on the top instead. The Haleakala National Park employees at the summit visitor center were all taking pictures of the snow, and one told us the last time it had snowed on the summit was 2002. So we drove back down the mountain and along the lush, waterfall-laden northeast coast instead until dark. On the way back, I realized what was so refreshing about Hawaii compared to other exotic places I've visited: I didn't feel (as) guilty about my vacation. We weren't supporting a corrupt tourist industry or propping up some huge corporation while at every turn confronted by a destitute populace, begging for a piece of our unimaginable wealth. (It's funny, though, that I'd feel the absence of this so acutely: I actually haven't taken that many trips overseas, just a few to Mexico and two to Southern Africa. I guess it's something I've been thinking a lot about anyway, so I'm very aware of it.) While I'm sure there are people in Hawaii that are poor, it's not as universal as it is in many places in the world. Also, I felt like I was seeing the real Hawaii, not some touristy veneer as shallow as Las Vegas.
We spent our third day on Maui continuing the drive around the lush northeast end of the island, stopping often and reaching Hana at dusk. He had excellent banana bread and went swimming in several frigid waterfall ponds (or at least I thought they were frigid). The so-called "highway to Hana" is actually a narrow road that varies between one and one and a half lanes, with many blind hairpin turns the locals take at high speeds (much to the terror of timid, gawking tourists). Hawaii really leaves your safety up to you: it expressly forbids very little, puts warning signs up for some of the more deadly dangers, and lets you use your judgment for the rest. dag29580863 was particularly amused at the profusion of warning signs at one particularly wild black-sand beach.
On the fourth day, we awoke at 5:15 a.m. (we had usually been getting up around 7:30 or 8) to boat out of Molokini, a tiny atoll just off the coast of southern Maui. Though the water was super-clear, the number and variety of fish was better elsewhere. However, the trip was well worth it, because we had several close encounters with some of the thousands of humpback whales who spend their winters in the submerged caldera of Maui. The tourguides often stopped the boat to watch distant whales, and once two whales swam up to us - stopping less than thirty feet away - and slapped their tails and fins, as if to show off. We also saw a turtle toward the end of the trip (though we saw many more later on the Big Island), and were fed very well.
We had to get up early again on the fifth day to catch a plane to the Big Island (officially named Hawaii, same as the state, but to avoid confusion I'll just call it what our guide book and most locals seem to call it). The "commuter terminal" of the airport on Maui had no security - no X-rays, no bag scans, no ID check, no metal detector. We checked in, sat down in the chairs just to the right of the check-in desks, then waved our boarding passes at the appropriate official and walked onto the tarmac. I guess they figure these tiny prop planes can't go beyond Hawaii anyway, so they concentrate their resources elsewhere.
I'll write about the Big Island in a future post!