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.


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