Hawai'i One-3, Day 4: Sea Trek
Our day starts relatively early once again -- not as early as the day previous when we exercised before breakfast, but earlier than usual for us. Actually, we both end up waking up somewhat early every single day during our vacation -- might be the time change between California and Hawai'i, might be different beds than what we're used to, might be the thought of not wanting to spend time sleeping when we could be doing vacationy-type stuff; could be any number of reasons.
The reason for today, however, is that we have a morning launch out of Ma'alaea Harbor for a snorkeling adventure with Trilogy Tours. We had used Trilogy last time for our day trip to Lana'i, and trust they'll provide a similarly great experience this trip as well. Our drive along the oceanfront highway is a little slow due to road construction (because the highway sits right up against the ocean in some places, there's a near-constant amount of repairs that need to be done to combat the erosion and water damage to the roadway) so we get to the harbor and onto the vessel, Trilogy V, right on time instead of early as I'd hoped; but still not a problem as the crew is on their version of island time and takes a somewhat casual approach to schedule promptness.
Once on the boat we're introduced to the captain, Captain Martin Kirk (who oddly wants to be called Captain Martin instead of the so much more obvious and geekily awesome Captain Kirk), and to the rest of the crew -- snuba instructor Chad, and mates Akeoi and Ted, and also someone else whom I forget but will call Bert (but only twice and to whom I won't refer for another five paragraphs because I don't remember anything else about him or what he did), and after a quick briefing as to our plans for the day we head out of the harbor and toward our first stop, an area off the Wailea portion of the island called Makena Beach. Makena Beach is also referred to as "turtle town" because there are two large submerged lava tubes in the reef which are popular nesting and feeding areas for Hawaii's famous green sea turtles, also called honu (who knew? I knew) and turtle sightings are very common. We're also slated to snorkel at Molokini, but we can see a large number of boats at Molokini while Makena Beach is nearly deserted, and Captain Martin wants us to have the best possible snorkeling experience without the large crowds.
His plan pays off, as I do indeed see a honu swimming near the surface. It's a relatively large adult, maybe four feet (and definitely four flippers, but that's not the same thing), serenely munching on sea grasses or seaweed or plankton or turtle chow, or whatever the hell honu eat; possibly poi. I use my handy-dandy and technologically obsolete underwater camera to take several shots of my Chelonian chum, that herbivorous honu, before it drifts down to the sea floor. Honu breathe air but can sleep submerged; while awake, they normally surface to breathe for a few seconds, then sink below the waves for several minutes. One unfortunate way that honu can die is if they feel threatened -- whether by natural predators or harassment by overzealous tourists -- they submerge and can actually drown before they feel safe enough to surface to get another breath of air. Heeding the admonishment from Captain Martin's morning lecture, I make sure not to get too close as I take my pictures. Shortly after we return to the boat, several other tour boats arrive from Molokini, and the water becomes positively infested with loud and disruptive haole. This is our cue to leave, so after the crew takes roll call (no re-creation of Open Water for us, thankyouverymuch) we carefully weave our way through the swimmers and head over to Molokini.
A quick side note -- one of the reasons we like Trilogy Tours is that they purposefully underbook their tours -- the boat itself can fit 50-60 people, but there are maybe 30 customers on board, probably more like 25. This allows the crew to maintain very good control and care for the clientele, as opposed to some of the other boats out there... we see one double-decker boat with easily 75-90 swimmers, and almost no crew oversight. This can easily lead to animal endangerment, unsafe practices, and the like; there's a comment on tripadvisor that mentions the Trilogy crew having to assist with another boat's customer when they needed help and their tour boat didn't notice. We prefer our vacation adventures with a little less danger and a lot more enjoyment. We prefer Trilogy.
After another half hour or so of cruising, we arrive at Molokini just as the last other boat is leaving, essentially giving us the entire area to ourselves. There aren't any turtles here, but because of Molokini's crescent shape (it's a partly submerged volcano crater) the water is remarkably calm and clear. We head out again and wander through the water, looking at all of the different fish looking at us. Crewmate Ted beckons us over, where he gives me the opportunity to hold a red pencil urchin in my hand; Lucie also seems intrigued and interested until Ted says "you can actually feel all those tiny feet grabbing your skin", at which point she politely demurs and leaves the experience to me. The red urchin does indeed have a strong grasp, its hundreds of tiny tube feet creating a surprisingly powerful suction. I take a picture -- I'm a bit close, so unfortunately I find out later that it comes out pretty blurry -- and hand the urchin back to Ted, trying not to think too much about the mouth with its sharp pointy teeth so close to my skin. I hope my palm doesn't taste too much like poi.
As we swim back to the boat, we suddenly find ourselves smack dab in the middle of a school of black triggerfish, unafraid of the interlopers in their territory. We slowly make our way through the crowd -- there are maybe 30 to 40 fish surrounding us -- and eventually get back on board the boat. A light lunch of barbecued chicken, green salad, and taro rolls is provided, and we head back toward Maui. Captain Martin cuts the engines partway back to try and sail us back in, but the wind doesn't want to cooperate and he eventually takes us back to the harbor with the engines propelling us.
We exit the boat, thanking and handing out tips to Captain Martin and the mates, and even Bert (and there's the second time he's mentioned!), and get into our rental car. Including the attempts at sailing, the trip back to Maui from Molokini has taken almost two hours, and we feel like a quick bite is in order, so we head south along the coast toward Wailea. We stop well before then, in North Kihei, at Ululani's Shave Ice -- this is one of three different locations on Maui, and all of them are highly rated on every food review site. Lucie orders their "Ka'anapali" flavor combination of grape, lime, and cherry for us to share; and head next door to the Sugar Beach Bake Shop and order a "da kine pie", a tartlet-sized quiche with kimchi and grilled onions, with an asiago crust. The pie is delicious -- the right combination of sour, spicy, creamy, and sharp; the shave ice is one of the best examples of shave ice we've had -- the consistency they manage to create with their ice is lighter than newfallen snow, and the flavors are intense while somehow managing not to be overly sweet. As Lucie puts it, we're almost afraid to have any more shave ice for the rest of the trip because we know full well it won't measure up.
After the snack, we head back up north along the coastal highway to our hotel. We take a short break, then decide to get a little more exercise by walking along the beachwalk path to Whaler's Village. It's less than a half mile from our hotel, so it's a relatively quick walk, and the scenery along Maui's pale golden beachfront is always nothing less than beautiful. We get there and wander along the shops, skipping the more ridiculous ones (Louis Vuitton, Coach, a scrimshaw place), poking our heads briefly into others (Totally Hawaiian, PacSun), and spending some money in a few more -- we renew our appreciation for the shortbread cookie at Honolulu Cookie Company, Lucie gets a shirt or hat or something (in all honesty, I've forgotten exactly what -- possibly poi) at Crazy Shirts, and I buy a new pair of "slippahs" at the Flip Flop Shop. The pair I've been wearing all trip has been a pair I got at a bike swap meet, made from repurposed bicycle tires (rubber soles, inner tube toe thong, and knobby top straps from mountain bike tires; entertaining as all get out to me, but not much in the way of arch support and I'm a bit wary of their aquatic durability, something which becomes more important on the beaches of the islands), and I upgrade to a pair of Olu Kai sandals -- designed to double as water shoes, fast drying, and with very good support to fend off any plantar fasciitis issues. Plus, Hawaiian company and made in Hawai'i, so we're supporting the local economy in multiple ways.
Dusk has come and gone while we wander the shops, so we walk back to the hotel by the light of the stars (okay -- aided greatly by the lights along the pathway, but "by the light of the stars" sounds so much better) and have a seat at the outdoor stage for some more live music and hula dancing. I have a drink or three, Lucie has one or two of her own, we have a light dinner (Lucie opts for chicken strips and I have a small Hawaiian pizza, which I consider a light dinner because it's topped with Mozzarella cheese, which is light in color), and enjoy the show for a bit. Starting tomorrow, Ka'anapali Beach Hotel is hosting their annual "Hula o na Keiki" event, a showcase/competition of traditional hula by children ("o na keiki" in Hawaiian is "of our children" [o = of, na = plural possessive indicator, keiki = child]), a competition which attracts entrants from all over Hawai'i, the mainland, and even a few groups from Japan; so many of the hula dancers during our visit have been students from the halaus that will be competing; it's great to see such a graceful and mesmerizing art form being passed on.
After the band is finished for the night, we decide we are as well; we've got a flight to catch tomorrow for the Big Island and suitcases to pack before then, so we head upstairs for the evening.