After we decided to move back to Europe Loes made it clear that she wouldn’t leave the US without doing first the trip to Hawaii that I had promised her. And so, with a healthy desire of preserving domestic stability we went to Hawaii a month before leaving the US.
We arrived at Kahului Airport on the northern part of Maui soon after noon. The airport was one of the smallest I’ve been to and its lack of paranoid and unreasonable levels of security measures as well as its wooden food and rental car stalls made it look like what my imagination assumes an airport looked like thirty years ago.
We picked up our rental car and headed in the general direction of the southern city of Kihei where our AirBnB host was located. But before arriving there we made a stop at one of the various beaches along the way to lie down and relax for a few hours. This is how it looked like:
The majority of the beaches that we saw in the island had a similar characteristic: bent palm trees, clear-sky views of the ocean with the big Maui volcanos on the periphery and the sounds of the highway as close as twenty meters away from your beach spot. There are probably good reasons for building the highway so close but if I had been in charge of laying out the infrastructure of a tropical paradisiac beach I would have left a bit more space.
Our next stop was in Kihei at our AirBnB guesthouse. Our hosts, a kind, gentle and lovely couple who had moved to Hawaii a few years ago, received us warmly and gave us all the information that we could possibly need. If you’re visiting Maui and you want a warm and personal experience and gorgeous breakfast go with Carrie. She informed us that the place we stayed in, a small two stories building with a living room on the ground floor and the bedroom on the first floor, was a traditional Hawaiian building. What I will remember, though, is the meter long opening alongside the furthest wall from the bed, which was also about one meter away from the opening. If when you wake up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom you tend to feel disoriented this type of building is not for you.
After dinner we watched the first of the various sunsets over the ocean that we enjoyed that week:
And we ended that day with star gazing in the quietness of the night.
The next day we stoked up with this delicious breakfast:
The first stop of the day was at a nearby snorkeling shop to rent gear. We then spent the following two or three hours driving all over the coast looking for a beach with calm enough waters to snorkel in. It took us a while but we eventually found a good spot. I had never snorkeled before. I don’t open my eyes underwater because I’m afraid I will go blind and once when I was about ten years old I almost drowned in the open ocean. In other words, my relationship with large masses of water is at the very least tense. And the darker the water the more my respect grows, exponentially. However after donning flippers and diving glasses and learning, right in time, that the tube attached to the glasses doesn’t really work if it gets covered with water, I followed Loes and plunged into the ocean. Immediately silence surrounded us. After a few seconds making sure I could still breathe I saw a floor of choral and a multitude of fish swimming in all directions. The view wasn’t as spectacular as some of the images I had seen on the internet before but the five-senses experience I was going through was fantastic. I lost track of time and we only got out when we couldn’t withstand the cold any longer. We snorkeled a few more times during the trip and in at least a couple of those times we got really close to beautiful and friendly turtles like this one:
The following day we changed gears and went in search of a hike at the top of Haleakala, a shield volcano (a relaxed volcano, the opposite of Pompeii-style volcanoes) that forms 75% of the island.
Something we learned that day is that it doesn’t matter if you’re in Hawaii, if you go from sea level to 3000 meters high a t-shirt and a light sweater aren’t going to cut it. When we reached the top we peeked around, wallowed in the great panoramic view but had to return because of the cold.
The next day we went to the port for a whale-watching trip. I took over a hundred photos during the ride but if you want to know how a whale looks like on the wild you will need to look somewhere else. Despite there being four or five whales below us, according to the guide, the most we could see of any of them was this:
The next day we went snorkeling again, but this time with a local guide. We ended up going to the same place that we found by ourselves but with an expert with us we went way out of our comfort zone. Our guide, Kai, was a university student with Hawaiian ancestry who worked part-time as a volunteer in the wilderness areas of the island trying to preserve autochthonous species. He was able to dive twenty meters into the ocean and offered us plenty of information about the area and life in Hawaii.
We spent the following two days exploring the Hana “highway”, which is Hawaiian for “torturous 106km road with 620 curves and 59 bridges, 46 of which are one way bridges with little visibility”. It was the perfect training track for Mario Kart but for someone who doesn’t like driving and is easily impressionable this was great fodder for the nightmares that hunt me to this day. Setting aside curves, bridges, the stress of expecting imminent crashes and the grey and rainy weather, the environment was spectacular: we were surrounded by dense jungle full of colorful flowers and trees I had never seen before.
The first day we barely had time to savor this hellish experience because we stopped early on to explore a bamboo forest. The hike took us several hours to complete and we climbed around six or seven waterfalls.
In one place we had trouble climbing a wet and slippery vertical wall with the only support of a liana. We met two couples carrying their babies on those back baby saddles that you see around but I have no idea how they overcame that vertical wall obstacle.
The second day we hadn’t had enough of Hana highway and went back for more. But this time we did so till the very end of the 620 curves. I remember thinking naively at the beginning “We are chasing the end of a rainbow! How romantic.” Now I’m a hardened man. But eventually we reached the end and there was a beach there as well. It wasn’t touristy, it was quiet and calm, but the only food stall there, which we were looking forward to, only accepted cash which of course we had none. After a relaxing break and a look around we made the grueling two and a half hours way back home.
Paved trail leading to the end of the civilized part of the island after reaching the end of the Hana highway.
During our final day we visited the lava fields in the south of the island. The beaches there are supposed to be great for snorkeling but we didn’t muster enough courage to overcome the fear of crashing into the rocky floor. Strangled trees set the mood for the desolate area afterwards that consisted entirely of solidified lava for kilometers in all directions.
After walking with slippers over porous volcanic rock for hours with nothing but menacing black clouds approaching us we decided we had seen enough and we made our way back. That afternoon we visited a bird sanctuary close to Kihei. At that point of the year the sanctuary had only two or three species of birds but the ranger with several missing fingers who volunteered there made sure we got to know not only those species but also the rest of the species that call that place home at some point or another throughout the year.
The next morning we took a final refreshing dip in the Pacific and headed to the airport.
I arrived with an image of Hawaii that could be summarized as loads of tourists, snobby people and Hawaiian women with flowery dresses dancing on every corner, but I left with a completely different image: a relaxing place, full of nature and life, with small but beautiful beaches, volcanos, a familiar sounding language (Hawaiian) and a mix of retired people toasting on the beach, a sizable younger immigrant population that decided to leave Europe or the US for one or another reason and a very friendly group of kind indigenous people. My most precious memory, though, will be our snorkeling forays into the ocean along with the serenity, stillness and sense of awe that I experienced and the turtle and other swimming little friends we met.