Hawa1'1, Day 1: "Maui. Maui is What Bwings us Togethah... Today."

Okay, so yeah... I've been wanting to use that as a title since our first trip to the islands.

Our third trip to the Islands starts the same way as it has the other two times -- Dean from our friends at On Time Limousine picks us up at 5:00 for a 7:20 flight. He remembers us, we remember him, and we enjoy a calm (since we don't have to drive to Oakland on a Monday morning) ride to Oakland International Airport while he entertains us talking about his opinions on early mornings, late nights, and long-distance relationships.

Our trip out to Hawai'i this time around is on Alaska Airlines -- they'd just started offering flights from OAK - HNL our last trip, but they've since also started flying direct to OGG, the main airport in Maui (called OGG since it's named after Bertram Hogg, aviation pioneer who flew for what is now Hawaiian Airlines), and since their outgoing trip prices are better than Hawaiian, and since Lucie is pretty darn good with getting the best deal possible, they're getting our business.

The trip through the TSA Fear & Humiliation Zone is uneventful; I've learned from my previous flights not to wear real shoes or anything that requires a belt, so my drawstring shorts and Crocs not only allow me to cruise through the metal detector and full-body scanner without a hitch, they also give me a fun "Crocs on a Plane" reference. Yay for me!

Our first class flight out is -- for the most part -- calming and relaxing. Offerings of iced beverages (I start drinking POG immediately, to get into the Island frame of mind), gourmet meals (fruit salads and pastries, and Lucie has the sweet potato and pecan Hawaiian bread pudding with asparagus and chicken sausage link while I opt for the asiago and Maui onion quiche with Portuguese sausage), and in-flight entertainment (Lucie's choice being Red Riding Hood and mine Rio) just about make up for the fact that the seat behind us is occupied by a young baby whose idea of in-flight entertainment is crying. Loudly. For the last hour or so of the flight.

Eventually we touch ground in Kahului, Maui, and we disembark. There's a definite smoky smell in the air and we see small charred bits of something or other floating through the air; at first we're a bit concerned but later find out that it's pretty normal for this area of Maui -- the major crop here is sugar cane, and the farmers burn the crops as part of the harvesting process to get rid of the dry leaves and branches as well as eradicating any pests before the stalks are cut for processing. We find out much about sugar cane during our second day here.

After getting our luggage, Lucie waits while I pick up our reserved rental car -- on Maui it's a Jeep Compass that is large enough to handle our luggage and powerful enough to handle the mountain roads while at the same time being small enough to where I don't worry about running out of gas after driving twelve blocks. I also get a decent deal by comparison shopping using the Hawai'i-specific rental web site "Hawaii Drive-0", although to be honest I picked the site about as much for the clever name as I did for the deal as they offer.

After we're loaded and ready for the road, we head on out. Or first stop is at Maui Coffee Roasters, where we (of course!) buy some coffee to bring home, but where I also start my caffeine intake with a six-shot iced mocha ("I don't think we have a cup big enough for that much drink and ice" the barrista tells me doubtfully) and Lucie has a refreshing cola. Liquids replenished, we head off to our next stop -- Tasaka Guri-Guri.

Once again, freaky how my tie dye du jour matches the pic...

Guri-guri is a Hawai'ian invention, a sort of sherbet made with sweetened condensed milk. It was originally offered, so the story goes, to migrant Japanese farmworkers as "goody goodies", which was bastardized into guri-guri. Whatever the etymology, Tasaka is considered to be the best such joint on Maui, and while Lucie can't have much because of the dairy involved she's eager to try a little bit of whatever I have. The serving size is tiny, only a golf ball sized scoop of each flavor; but since it's got so much sugar that's fine with me. We both agree that the pineapple flavor is a little underwhelming, tasting more like orange to me than pineapple; but the strawberry flavor is very good -- light, fresh, strong, and very very sweet. As a bonus, I also see that they sell bags of One-Ton Chips, slightly sweet fried wonton chips to which I got severely addicted on our last trip to the Islands. I buy two bags, and tell myself I can ration myself. I also know that I'm lying to myself, and that I'll probably eat both bags before the day is done, but I'm willing to take that tasty, tasty risk.

From there, we drive a good way up the side of Haleakala before coming to our next destination, the Ali'i Kula Lavender Farm. It's cold, wet, and cloudy, and the last bit of road to the farm is a single lane of winding, shoulderless, pothole-riddled, crumbling asphalt that is not exactly a rare occurrence in Hawai'i. I'm more than a little relieved when we get there safely.

Once in the gift shop, we sample lavender infused tea, which is good; lavender infused coffee, which is weird but not terrible; lavender infused brownies, which are a little "soapy" but tasty; and lavender infused scones, which are delicious. As in, "best scone EVER" delicious. We also raid the store and buy soaps, lotions, herb rubs, teas, and other lavender products before heading further uphill, or upcountry as they say it here.

Our next stop is the Maui Winery, located at the Ulupalakua Ranch, which is in turn located right smack dab in the middle of NOWHERE. Seriously, the road here makes the road to the lavender farm look like Highway 280; it's 5.2 miles of pure butt-clenching terror road, still a single lane of winding, shoulderless, pothole-riddled, crumbling asphalt, but with the added fun of cliffs and -- I am NOT making this up -- a broken down vehicle blocking the road at one point, with someone directing traffic to go around. Finally, though, we do make it safely. It's shortly after lunchtime, so we make a stop at the cafe, where Lucie enjoys a very well made burger and I have steak chili over rice. I wouldn't be surprised if there were actually more steak in my chili than in Lucie's burger -- huge, tasty, perfectly cooked and just spicy enough to enhance the flavor without overpowering the quality of the beef. We both have bottles of water and I have an iced cappuccino just because the road here didn't make me jittery enough.

We head across the street to the winery, have a couple of samples, buy and arrange to have a few bottles shipped back home, and pick up some other assorted gifts before heading back down the mountain to our hotel. We check in to the Ka'anapali Beach Hotel and find that because Lucie mentioned it's our anniversary they gave us a free room upgrade as well as a bottle of champagne. It's an unexpected but very welcome gesture, and one which definitely reflects their motto of being "Hawaii's Most Hawaiian Hotel."

We get to our room (on the third floor of a building without an elevator, but the stairs are fairly shallow and the bellboys get our luggage upstairs to our room before we get there, so it's not a major problem. We snooze for a bit, taking advantage of the air conditioner and ceiling fan, then head downstairs to the hotel's outdoor restaurant for dinner.

Lucie has the beef tenderloin with caramelized Maui onions and mushrooms, while I choose the broiled mahimahi with a crab and Parmesan cheese topping. I also turn cheesy tourist for a moment and order the "Coco Loco", a combination of light and dark rum, vodka, creme de banana, pineapple juice, and coconut milk that comes in a souvenir coconut shell cup. Yeah, it's a bit goofy, but it makes me smile.

For that matter, so does the house band, a slack key guitar band that plays a combination of Hawaiian favorites as well as more classic tunes. We eat and drink and enjoy as they play everything from Vic Damone to Bon Jovi to classic rock to country... let me tell you, if you've never heard a Hawaiian slack key band play Freebird or I Walk the Line, you need to do so. It's not something you're likely to find on iTunes, that's for sure.

We listen for a while, then head up to our room for the night. We've got an early, early day tomorrow and we've been up since 3:30 this morning (plus three hours, including the time change), so we need all the shuteye we can get. Our first day in Hawai'i ends with the sound of the nearby ocean in our ears, the cool air from the fan blowing down on us, and the relaxed and happy knowledge that we're back in one of our favorite places in the world.



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