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.
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.
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.