Hawai'i One-3, Day 3: Beach Bums

One of the things we loved about our last trip to Maui was when we rented a cabana and spent several hours on the beach; just resting, enjoying the sun, maybe reading a magazine or two, and drinking a cold refreshing beverage. We definitely want to do that again this trip, but also want to supplement that with something new that we didn't do our last trip, so we decide that today will be a hotel-centric day.

We start the day early with some exercise -- Lucie goes for a walk/jog along the "beachwalk" path,
a 3 or 4 mile long paved path that connects several different hotels and the Whaler's Village high-end retail megaplex while I walk for a mile or so then do knee exercises that seem to help my mobility and range of motion. After we shower and get dressed for the day, we head out to the hotel's free breakfast buffet, where they give their temporary residents their fill of the standard fare (eggs, bread, bacon, Portuguese sausage, potatoes, juice, coffee) while talking about the commercial ventures available (snorkeling, Hana and Haleakala tours, etc.) with which they partner with other local companies. It's not timeshare-type stuff as far as predatory marketing is concerned, but it's also definitely not a free lunch (or breakfast) either. We do use the opportunity, though, to sign up for Kupanaha, the hotel's magic show, for that evening; and for a snorkeling trip for tomorrow with Trilogy Tours.

After the breakfast, Lucie and I sign up for some of Ka'anapali Beach Hotel's Hawaiian culture lessons -- we had taken the Hawaiian language lesson last trip, but have forgotten everything we learned. We also rent one of the cabanas on the beach, for later in the day. Our first class is in lei making; KBH's Cultural Expert and Guest Services Representative, Malihini (of whom we have incredibly fond memories from 2011), is giving the class. She greets us warmly, and we take our seats at a table covered in carnations. Using a special needle, we learn to string the flowers so they sit properly on the lei while Malihini tells us about the lei's importance and symbolism to the Hawaiian people. As is custom with married couples, I place the lei I made on Lucie's shoulders and she places the one she made on mine.

We're the only married couple in the class; in fact, I'm the only male in the class -- it's not golfing, and there are flowers involved. There are three other women in the class, and we of course hear a chorus of "awwww" as we place the leis on each other, and Malihini grabs my iPhone to take a picture. It's a nice moment, but unfortunately the picture is a little badly timed and makes me look like a technicolored troll trying to eat the face off a woman who just sucked on a lemon, so it's a picture that will NEVER see the light of day. Ever.

Our next class is a repeat of the Hawaiian language class we took last time. As it turns out, Lucie and I are the only people who signed up, so we get personal instruction by Malihini in the pronunciation, grammar, historical significance, and meaning of Hawaiian diphthongs, words, and phrases. The two of us do have a *very* basic knowledge of some words, so we ask questions as needed, and voice insights when (occasionally) relevant. When we practice the sound pu'u, for example, I recognize this as the Hawaiian word for "hill", and ask if this is the case, mentioning the area of Pu'unene near Kahului. Every time we do something like this, Malihini seems both surprised that we actually know about the language and happy that we're actually trying to embrace the culture. This might just be her job, to encourage the appreciation of culture; but it really does come across as true warmth and generosity of spirit. Everything about Malihini is warm and generous of spirit; and it's not just us that believes this...

After the language class, we head out to the cabanas and get our relaxation on. Early in the afternoon, our final cultural lesson for the day, learning the hula, is scheduled; Lucie makes a difficult spur of the moment decision to stay on the beach and make sure the cabana doesn't get blown away in the (beautiful, sunny, and windless) weather, and I head up to the hotel lobby for my lesson. Because I'm the only participant for this one, Malihini recruits another hotel employee, Rayce, to teach me a hula kane, a dance performed by men. Taking my bad knee into account, he gives me some basic pointers (hula should be performed barefoot, as the dancers are grounding themselves to the earth as part of the performance) and walks me through Kalakaua He Inoa, a traditional dance in honor of Hawaiian King David Kalakaua (ruled 1874-1891), nicknamed the Merrie Monarch, known primarily for fighting to preserve Hawaiian culture and bringing back the art and tradition of hula, which had been banned for religious reasons in 1830 by Queen Ka'ahumanu, wife to the first King Kamehameha (she took over as regent upon his death in 1819.) There's an annual hula competition in Hilo on the Big Island named the Merrie Monarch Festival, named after Kalakaua. Rayce chants the song as I dance (a little slowly and unsteadily at times, if I must be honest), and shakes my hand after we're done.

I've looked at other performances of this hula on YouTube since my lesson, and it's very clear that I was taught an extremely basic version of this particular hula; however, seeing as how I'm an old fat haole with bad knees, it ain't bad for a 45-minute first-ever hula lesson. I also manage to forget most of the dance by the time I perform it for Lucie later that evening, but it's a fond memory nonetheless.

After the lesson, I return to the beach, where Lucie has been successfully defending her half of the cabana from UV rays, and relax next to her for the next couple of hours. The sun's heat is intense but wonderful and relaxing, the water is that amazingly clear blue that one just can't find off the California coast, the other tourists on the beach are for the most part quiet and far enough away to ignore, and the beverages we enjoy are ice cold and perfect -- Lucie makes a trip to the hotel's deli store to provide for us, since they don't offer catering service out to the beach. It's a very welcome time, just reclining and enjoying the moment; doing absolutely nothing at all is sometimes the thing that is best to do while on vacation.

Late afternoon, we begrudgingly leave the cabana for the day and head up to our room to get ready for dinner. We put our best vacation clothes (my shirt for the evening actually has buttons and isn't tie dyed) and go to the hotel's lobby. Just outside the showroom, they preview the show with some decent close-up magic; classic tricks like the Professor's Nightmare (three ropes of unequal lengths that turn into equal lengths and back again) and the Chinese Linking Rings are done to an appreciative audience before the doors open and we enter. There's a brief line as the family groups are posed for the obligatory souvenir photos (which we of course later buy) and we're offered our beverage of choice (we both go with a blue Hawaiian) before getting seated at our table. Lucie, knowing my geeky appreciation for magic, has gotten us seats at the front row of tables, and in a nice example of serendipity our table actually ends up being front row center.

We engage in small talk with the other people at our table -- a retired couple from Austin and a family of three (a twentysomething guy and his parents) from Portland -- as our dinner is brought out to us. Our appetizer of Kalua pork (for me) and grilled veggie (for Lucie) bruschetta is actually on a soft flatbread instead of traditional bruschetta, but tastes fine. A brief tableside performance of the Cups & Balls by the same close-up magician as earlier is fun -- one or two moves that I catch because I know where to look and when, but a finale move that completely takes me by surprise -- and is followed by our main course. Lucie chooses the tenderloin steak and shrimp over mashed potatoes; I opt for the red snapper with asparagus over seasoned rice; both are good (not necessarily outstanding, but certainly not bad at all.) During the main course and dessert (pina colada cheesecake for me, assorted fruit plate for Lucie), the main stage show of Jody Baran and his wife Kathleen and her breast implants (with lighting support by their son Robert and stage assistance by daughter Crystal) performs several intricate stage illusions, with dance routines from a local hula halau as interstitials. The dance numbers are a combination of the traditional Hawaiian and/or Polynesian dances, with one or two modern takes mixed in (one in particular is a heavily World War II - influenced routine with accompanying outfits, as a tribute to Hawaii's home to servicemen, and possibly an homage to the upcoming Veteran's Day holiday.) The tricks are, according to Jody Baran, inspired by various famous magicians that had visited the Hawaiian islands in the last century or two -- Houdini, the Great Nicola, Long Tack Sam, Raymondo (for some reason my favorite magician name) -- and for the most part very well done. There's humor, magic, dance, good food, and family. There's a lot to like about the show, and it's an enjoyable evening well spent.

After the show, we briefly consider stopping by the outside courtyard for additional drinks, but we've got an early day ahead of us -- one of the few planned outings for which we have a timetable -- so we head upstairs to our room for the night. We can, however, still hear the live band playing music from our hotel room, so we drift off to sleep with a Don Ho song as a serenade.

Hawai'i One-3, Day 2: Hana Ho!

Our second day on Maui, and we're off to experience something else we missed out on our last trip; namely, the Road to Hana. This is not a secret eighth wacky slapstick romcom movie starring Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, and Dorothy Lamour; but rather is the name of the highway along the eastern coast of Maui from the port/airport town of Kahului to Hāna. Many harrowing stories are told about the trip, which is only 52 miles in length but takes about two and a half hours of nonstop driving to complete due to the road, which is incredibly winding, narrow, and frankly outright terrifying were you to try and navigate the over 600 curves (most of which are sharp hairpin turns), 59 bridges (of which 46 are one-lane-wide bottlenecks with limited visibility due to the curving road), old infrastructure (most of the bridges date back a full century, to 1910), falling rocks (virtually untouched rain forest, cliffside roads, and rock makes for frequent rockslides -- coming around a sharp corner only to find several coconut-sized rocks in the middle of the road is not uncommon), flocks of wild nene in the road (just kidding; we all know they're not real) and various other road hazards. Because I want to appreciate the trip and not be a nervous wreck the entire time, we make arrangements to be driven there by a tour service instead.

So early in the morning, we head out the lobby of our hotel and meet up with Eric, from Temptation Tours. He was our driver last time when we did the Haleakala Sunrise tour, and is a welcome sight for the Hana drive. Also in the luxurious and comfortable limo van are a married couple from Long Island, Michael and Valerie. In a wonderful turn of fate, they turn out to be very entertaining folks, and Michael's sarcastic sense of humor is very similar to my own, so we have a great time chatting and joking as Eric drives us through the light rain. We cruise through
the artist colony town of Paia, refuge for surfers and hippies turned into artists selling their wares to tourists (this, as it turns out, is a very common occurrence in Hawai'i), and I take pictures of the amazingly clear and bright rainbow -- double rainbow, actually -- that we see over the ocean to the left side of our ride. At a clearing just outside of town, we find a wide shoulder on the side of the road, pull over, and get out for pictures. Along the way, we pass the popular (and expensive) restaurant Mama's Fish House, which is on our list of Things To Do In Maui but which will have to wait until our third visit to the island; we listen, entertained, as native Maui resident Eric discusses how Hawaiians eat ("we don't eat until we get full, we eat until we get tired. I call it 'Polynesian Paralysis'") and why everything on Maui is so expensive (there's only one large factory on Maui, for processing sugar cane into raw sugar; however, even that then has to be shipped to New York to be cleaned and packaged before coming back to Maui -- there are cows on Maui but no real dairy so a similar process is done with the milk and it's not uncommon to see milk selling in stores for as much as $10/gallon.) We also entertain ourselves with a fun and joke-filled discussion with East Coast visitors Michael and Valerie (I don't remember how the subject came up, but at some point I leave Michael momentarily helpless with mirth with a comment about YouTube videos of nenes twerking; Lucie accomplishes the same when we see roadwork and she says they're narrowing the roads for the tourists.) At various points along the way, Eric stops along the side of the road (shoulder space permitting [and in some cases even without shoulder space]) to show us such native or introduced flora as awapuhi (flowering Hawaiian ginger), bamboo (there's a bamboo forest alongside the highway where one can literally get lost for weeks, it's so large and dense), koa (a beautiful exotic wood, prized for its natural beauty and density, popular in handmade guitars and ukuleles but now a protected wood and therefore very expensive when available), and rainbow eucalyptus (a smooth-skinned tree, with vibrant pastel streaks, which really does look painted on.)

We make a quick stop in the tiny town of Haiku at the roadside stand Halfway to Hana (which is really only about a third of the way to Hana) and buy some of their crazy tasty banana bread and "King's Bars" (macadamia nuts, chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, coconut, and a graham cracker crust) and a "medium sized" shave ice that's the size of an adolescent German shepherd; we stop further along the way at the tiny town of Huelo, where we see a church built from stone and coral back in 1853, take pictures of some beautiful waves crashing on the lava rocks, and buy candied coconut and macadamia nut brittle from locals sheltering from the drizzle under canopies; and make additional stops at several waterfalls, bridges, aqueducts, and scenic points; and, approximately three hours after Kahului (including a fifteen to twenty minute stretch when we get caught up in a standstill traffic situation as construction equipment clears a small landslide ahead of us that has partially blocked the road), we end up in the town of Hana.

Hana, by itself, could be described as somewhat unimpressive... but it's never claimed to be anything otherwise. It's a small town, very removed from the rest of comparatively crowded and busy Maui; quiet and peaceful, in its quaint way... the experience of the Road to Hana is called "the Road to Hana" for a reason, instead of just "Hana". We have a picnic lunch under a pavilion by a black sand beach, with me and Lucie on one side of a picnic table and Michael and Valerie on the other, eating fresh pineapple, and dark chocolate brownies, and chicken breast sandwiches, and pasta salad, and mahimahi sandwiches, and bottled water and POG. It's a simple meal, with the rain continuing to come down outside the pavilion, and laughter and anecdotes as we share stories as we eat.
From there, we stop briefly at Hana Tropicals, an orchid farm run by members of WWOOF, World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, a coalition of eco-friendly organic farmers who -- I'm assuming -- grow trees primarily for hugging purposes. The orchids and proteas they grow are really beautiful, and vibrant; and just like with Temptation Tours' Haleakala Sunrise tour when we stopped at the protea farm, the women in our group receive a small bouquet of cut flowers as a welcome gift.

There's a brief delay along the road back as Eric stops our van to remove several large rocks that are littering the other side of the road and which are blocking a car's route; back in the van he also points out the fence of a home alongside the highway, where some of the fencing has collapsed and fallen partway down the hill -- "That wasn't like that when we drove past here on the way out," he comments -- and we continue down the road a bit to Wai'anapanapa State Park. We park the van and stretch our legs for a bit; Lucie and Valeria walk down the long and steep stairs to the black sand beach, while Michael (bad back) and I (bad knee) opt to stay up at the parking lot level. I wander around for a bit, take some pictures of a mongoose frolicking around the grassy picnic area and of the lava rock arches on the beach below, and once the two women come back up the stairs, I join them and the three of us take another trail -- a combination of ramp and stairs, but nothing too severe -- down to the freshwater pool nearby. There's quaint local folklore about the pool, about a princess Popoalaea who is hiding unsuccessfully from her husband, Chief Kakae, and who is killed by him after her hiding place is discovered; you know, all that touchy-feely stuff that you find in Harlequin novels.

We snooze a bit on the rest of the trip back -- it seems a little jaded to say, but at some point we almost get waterfalled out... the scenery is absolutely stunning, make no mistake; the tree canopy is a bright and vibrant green, the flowers range from blazing crimson to a pastel, almost gossamer, lavender to what is almost a screamingly bright hunter orange, and the ocean is a frothy combination of white crashing waves and a variety of blues and aquas. Even the fact that the skies are a near-constant gray can't dull the artist's dream palette of colors that surround us, or the amazing natural beauty of foliage, waterfalls, wildlife, and earthy green scents; it's almost a sensory overload, but a wonderful one.

One last stop before Kahului, where we stop and watch the waves at Pe'ahi. Also known by the name Jaws, Pe'ahi is the Hawaiian word for wave, although it's actually kind of a play on words -- the word for oceanic waves is nalu, while pe'ahi is the waving or fanning of one's hands, and chosen as the name for the surfing mecca even though Pe'ahi is actually the ancient name of a different, inland location not far away. The surfers are packed into this area, the waves are impressive -- not as huge as the 60-foot waves that can appear during the winter months, but still taller than the surfers riding them -- and the outhouses by the parking lot are horrible. I count myself lucky that I didn't have to avail myself of them, but Lucie did and she says she will be forever grateful to our personal trainer for the strong quad muscles she had to employ to avoid having to actually come in contact with any of the interior other than the floor. Enough of that, though -- icky icky.

We cruise back across the island, along the Honoapi'ilani Highway that runs along the western coast of Maui up to Ka'anapali where Eric drops us back at the hotel. We rest for an hour or so, then wander down to the hotel's Tiki Terrace outdoor restaurant for dinner. It's still drizzling on and off, so we sit under the covered area and enjoy dinner while the live band plays Hawaiian music. We share an appetizer of coconut shrimp, a Hawaiian pupu mainstay; Lucie has a tenderloin steak and rice pilaf, and I opt for one of the daily specials, the braised lamb shank. It's falling-apart tender, flavorful and moist, with a garlic, ginger, anise, and shiitake mushroom sauce, a dollop of white truffle oil on top, and a vegetable medley bed of bok choy, carrots, and sweet Maui onions. It's delicious, robust and could only be topped by an even better dessert, this is managed with their "banana caramel lava eruption", with caramelized banana sliced, mixed with toasted macadamia nuts, surrounding a chocolate lava cake, topped with coconut ice cream, and drizzled with an intense caramel sauce. It's fantastic. Not at all diet friendly, but definitely fantastic.

I manage to finish the dessert, but am too full of sugars afterwards to have any fruity tropical drinks tonight, so we sit and listen to the music for a bit longer before heading back to our room for the night.


Hawai'i One-3, Day 1: The Day We Get Re-Maui'ed


Our new Hawaiian vacation begins, as it has every time thus far, with a chauffeured ride from our apartment to the airport. The ride isn't a stretch limo (as it was in 2009 upon our return) or a town car (as it has been every other time), but a Cadillac Escalade, driven by Demetrius (instead of Dean, who has been our driver on every other occasion.)

While the ride isn't uncomfortable or unnerving in any way, it's not the experience to which we've become accustomed. Instead of engaging and entertaining conversation with our driver, we sit quietly in the back seat as Demetrius plays KBLX on the radio; other than introducing himself to me when he picks us up, I honestly don't believe Demetrius says more than a dozen words to us during the trip, and I don't recall him saying anything to Lucie -- not even an introduction. We listen to the Steve Harvey morning show, which today at least consists of equal parts religious proselytization and bathroom humor "morning zoo" schtick, until we get to Oakland Airport. We wait patiently for a while as Demetrius works on charging my credit card for the trip, before Lucie eventually pulls our luggage out of the vehicle herself so we don't end up late for the flight.

A mercifully short trip through the TSA checkpoint and brief wait at the gate later, and we're on our flight. Alaskan Airlines is our airline of choice for the trip out; their breakfast for their first class passengers (which we are) consists of fresh fruit and a blueberry Danish, and their take on a loco moco -- a junior ground beef patty on rice, covered in a mushroom gravy, with a bit of scrambled eggs alongside.

I do understand the compromises that have to be made -- scrambled eggs reheat much better than eggs fried over easy or sunny side up, which is how *real* loco mocos are made -- but unfortunately this only serves to create a burning need for real Hawaiian mix plate goodness. I spend part of the time watching Hugh Jackman's abs playing "The Wolverine" on the provided in-flight entertainment tablet, followed by my getting back into the Hawaiian frame of mind by watching Arial America's Hawai'i episode in high definition on my own iPad.

Once we land on Maui, Lucie guards our luggage while I pick up our rental car at Avis. They're out of the full-size car (such as Impala or Taurus) that I had reserved, so they set me up with a Lincoln town car. This is *WAY* more car than I feel comfortable with, but I'm game to give it a try -- this is Hawai'i, and we're on vacation, so I don't plan on sweating the small things. (Yes, the Lincoln town car is a big thing, not a small thing. Believe me, I know.)

From the airport, we head mauka (inland or uphill; "mauka" is Hawaiian for "sucking gas") to the Ali'i Kula Lavender Farm, which was our first stop last trip as well. This time I'm prepared for the winding and narrow road from the highway to the farm entrance, and for the even narrower and windier road from the farm entrance to the parking lot... but what I'm not prepared for is just how immense the Lincoln feels trying to navigate the roads. We eat a very light snack (their lavender scones are still outstanding, though because the toaster oven is out of order they're room temp instead of warm and tasty; the lavender and honey iced green tea is sweet and refreshing) and make our first major financial hit of the vacation in the gift shop, buying various lavender-scented or -flavored or -themed items for us and our friends and family. Once back in the car, I spend about half an hour on the phone (we actually get service out here, which believe me is NOT always a given in upcountry Hawai'i) with Avis before heading back to the rental car location at Maui's Kahului airport (call sign OGG, after Hawaiian Airlines-affiliated aviation pioneer Bertram Hogg [for some reason he decided against HOG]) where I successfully swap out the Lincoln town car with a Chrysler 300. The 300 is still larger than a Taurus or Impala, but a vehicle in which I feel much more comfortable behind the wheel; I drove a 300 during our visit to O'ahu four years ago and had no issues.

Now in our new, slightly less Brobdingnagian ride, we head out for lunch. Lucie's done some reading around and suggests the local favorite Da Kitchen. They appeared in an episode of Bizarre Food for their deep fried Spam musubi appetizer, so we order that in addition to our entrees -- the beef teriyaki and chicken katsu combination plate for Lucie, and the "Notorious B.I.G. Moco" for me. That particular meal consists of, according to their menu, a "homemade burger steak topped with chili, Mexican cheese, two eggs, mushrooms and onions, served with Spam, bacon, Portuguese sausage, all over our homemade local style fried rice." It must also be noted that their fried rice has copious amounts of Spam, bacon, and Portuguese sausage -- suffice it to say that this is not exactly diet-friendly eats. It is, however, amazingly delicious; Lucie also says that her beef teriyaki is the best teriyaki she's ever had. This one-two gastronomical punch of outstanding tastes and gargantuan portions is a great way to start our trip to Hawai'i, even though it does sort of threaten to put both of us into a happy food coma.

After groggily making our way to the car (which, I'm almost certain, ends up sitting several inches lower than it did before our meal), we make our way across the island to the Ka'anapali Beach Hotel where we check in. We unpack, and enjoy the air conditioning for a few minutes before heading out to the adjoining beach where we walk down to Black Rock and watch the sunset torch lighting ceremony. We'd missed this the last time we were on Maui (my knee wasn't exactly meander-friendly back then [not that it's all that much better now -- it's actually a bit worse -- but I'm more able to manage the walk with the added weight loss and exercise regimen]), and since we're sort of calling this part of the trip Maui 2.0, we wanted to do the things we didn't get to do two years ago.

Torches lit, guy with torch having successfully dived off the cliff into the ocean, we slowly make our way back to our hotel, stopping along the way to take advantage of one of those "stick your head through the hole in the wall for wacky fun picture time" walls for some wacky fun picture time before relaxing at Ka'anapali Beach Hotel's outside Tiki Bar area where we have some cold tropical drinks and listen to the live band play Hawaiian and not-so-Hawaiian selections. Lucie has a lava flow and a Malibu and Coke; I opt for the "Ka'anapali Cooler" (light rum, vodka, sweet & sour, pineapple and orange juices, and a top skin of blackberry & cherry brandy) and a souvenir version of a tropical itch (which comes with a bamboo back scratcher as a swizzle stick.) Sated, satisfied, and a pleasant combination of Hawaiian music and a slight alcohol buzz in our ear holes, we eventually head upstairs and say aloha ahiahi ("goodnight" in Hawaiian; also "hello fishfish") to our first day back in Hawai'i.