Just a girl rambling around the globe and writing about it.

Musings from around the block and farther.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Waking Up in the House of the Sun - Haleakala

Haleakala means "House of the Sun" in Hawaiian and it's the name of Maui's resident volcano and the mountain that surrounds it. When Kanoe suggested that we wake up and see the sunrise from Haleakala, I balked a little. Here's the thing: although it's on a tropical island, it's a tall, tall mountain and the temperature at the peak is much cooler than the temp at the shore.  If you go, you need to dress warmly and wake up early.  Really early.  3 am early. Therefore, not all of us went -- who wants to wear scarves and mittens on a beach holiday??  

For those of us who wanted a different kind of Maui experience, however, the lure of a magical sunrise was hard to pass up.  Armed with coffee and a map, blankets and beach towels, Kendra and took off at 3:27 am with four sleepy kids in the back. The drive is fairly long because there's no direct road from where we were staying in Kihei to Haleakala, so it took about an hour and 45 minutes to get up there.  The hairpin turns wind and twist up the mountain, and we we had to stop a few times because Emme was carsick.  Furthermore, it's hard to see what's around you because it's so dark. But the stars... in the deep black of the sky, the stars look like diamonds sprinkled on an inky canvas.  

By the time we finally parked, the faint glimmer of first light was starting to shimmer across the sky.  We found spots along the observation deck and waited behind other sleepy tourists, everyone with cameras held up to the light, waiting.

Something about the experience reminded me of yoga, especially the morning meditations that I do on retreat in Ojai, sitting cross-legged in front of a window that looks out over the Topa Topa Mountains, the red sunlight of the rising sun warming my face.  I had to get over the annoying feeling of people pushing to see past me, the loud clicks and whirrs of cameras behind and next to me, the cold of my fingers as I fumbled with my own touch screen camera.  Kanoe and I giggled about the crazy get-ups of the people around us, as well as my blanket cape and his Taliban-inspired burka.

But when I finally quieted myself down and just observed, I was struck by the movement of the clouds over the mountains.  Like the waves crashing over coral reefs ten-thousand feet down at sea level, the puffy clouds pushed themselves slowly up and over the rocky cliffs below us, changing form and disappearing and then tumbling back up again. It was spectacular and mesmerizing, something that my camera couldn't capture, either on video or in still pictures, though I took dozens of photos.

After awhile, the kids begged to get out of the cold. On the way to the car, so we stopped to snap a few more pictures.  Then, as we turned toward the parking lot, a cheer roared up from the crowds so we ran back to see what was the fuss.

The sun!  It rose, as it always has, over the horizon, over the house of the sun.  The burnished orange globe bobbed up, sizzling into the island sky, worthy of a gasp and a cheer. There it was, a reminder of newness and fresh starts and the infinite gifts of a new day. 

To say that it was worth the trouble - the suitcase real estate for jackets, the long drive up and back, the sleep deprivation, the carsickness - is an understatement. Sol invictus, the invincible sun. It shouldn't have taken a trip to Maui to see something that is there for me every day, every morning of my life.  But I'm thrilled that it did.  Now that I've been to the house of the sun, I am recharged, glowing with radiance.  

All hail Haleakala.

Bikini Beach

Nothing says summer like girls in bikinis on a beach, even though I had to get over my own thoughts to consent to buying this very special souvenir for them.  I wrote about it for my friend Christine's online mag, because writing helps me to organize my thoughts (as you know).  

Welcome to bikini beach, girlies.

Mama's Fish House

When we were planning this trip, Raf and I saw an old Rachel Ray food/travel show and she was at Mama’s Fish House in Maui.  I read more about it and the Yelp reviews were out of this world.  Even though it’s expensive, they said, it’s worth the price for the view.  Go at sunset, get the macadamia-crusted lobster dish.

With a party of 10, it’s hard to get a good table so we made reservations.  They couldn’t fit us in at 8, so we nabbed a 6:45 rezo… and it made all the difference.  The sun sets in Maui at 7:30, so we got phenomenal photos of the kids by the water, climbing trees and racing to the water.  The restaurant itself was like the Tiki Room at Disneyland, filled with Polynesian memorabilia, but without guile or irony.  And that view…

To be honest, it took a long time to be served and the kids were restless once our food arrived, but it was one of those places that feels magical just to be in it.  And besides, there is nothing like eating your food steps from the beach, bathed in the summery sunset glow of Maui.

Ten Years Zipped Right By...

At times, Serena has – by far – been the most nervous and anxious of our kids.  Worried about world wars, the deaths of loved ones, stopped elevators, car crashes on the side of the freeway, helicopters buzzing overhead… In the past, I’ve wondered how she’ll survive in the “real world” if she has so many hesitations.

And yet, her greatest wish for her 10th birthday was to go ziplining.  Even as I typed up the registration online and keyed in my credit card number, I asked her, “You’re sure about this? It’s a long way to go… are you sure this is what you wanna do?”  She assured me she did, so I shrugged my shoulders and took a leap of faith…

It took about an hour from check-in to the mountain, and then another half hour or so up to the 1st zip.  We were in a group with three newlywed couples, a couple that had been married for 35 years and a young college girl who was celebrating her 21st birthday.  All harnessed in and helmeted, I asked Serena again.  “You sure?”  This time, she only nodded, eyes on the mountain. 

When we were next in line, I said, “You want me to go first?”

She shook her head. “No, I’ll go.”  And then they strapped her in and off she zipped, like she’d been doing it for years, and her landing was so graceful the guides nicknamed her “Tinkerbelle.” 

We did 8 zips in all, each a little longer or more interesting than the one before, each one leaping over a lush valley of guava trees, wild boars, mongoose (mongeese?) and birds, everything tucked into the red dirt of Maui. 
Serena was brave and happy and excited and fun to watch.  After all was said and done, I wondered if maybe her anxieties about the fearful things in the world were simply those things beyond her control – fears like the ones that we all have, even as grown-ups – but somehow, up in the air above the valley floor of that Maui canyon, she found a peacefulness and a control of her own.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Happiest Happy Hour

BEFORE: happy, carefree tourists with 
coconutty goodness in each sip.
AFTER: (15 minutes later)
Weekend at Bernie's

Diving Off Cliffs

Kendra and I like to joke that if there’s a cliff or a high point near a body of water, some Hawaiian is gonna jump off of it.  I was reminded of this before we left, when I watched “Twilight: New Moon” and the dark-skinned werewolf boys were diving off some crazy cliff in Forks.  Which is lame ‘coz it’s cold in Forks.  But in Maui, it’s warm and womb-like, a rush without the icy bite.

When we lived in Sherman Oaks, our pool was built close to the house and you could go upstairs, climb over the master bedroom balcony and onto the guest room addition, then jump off that roof into the 8-foot deep end.  Which we all did at one point or another, but Shane (that Hawaiian) turned it into an art form.  Not only did he do it, but it added a certain island flair to it: he’d crouch down a little, knees bent, then pop into the air, where it seemed to stand still for a moment, and he’d hurl himself toward the pool in a warrior stance, shoulders back, arms arched behind himself, knees bent, head facing stoically toward the water.  A third of the water would splash out and the ensuing waves would knock a small child down.  But it was thrilling to watch and we never knew exactly when he might choose to jump.  One minute, he’d be on the patio smoking a cigar with Raf and the next, Kendra would say, “Where’d Shane go?” and then we’d look up or hear a splash and we’d know.  He was feeling his roots.

The other day, at the Olivine Pools, he did the same thing.  It’s another steep climb, picking our way down a loose, rocky pathway to get to natural pools carved into the lava rock, eroded by centuries of crashing waves.  There are a few small pools, a scary blowhole geyser that spits water up at you if you get too close (but could pull you under in a split second, so you don’t dare to go near it) and a larger pool that is an icy teal color, almost phosphorescent from the bubbles that are formed when the waves crash into it.

By the time I had climbed my way down, Shane had already dived into that pool.  The daring members of our group impressed tourists by jumping in next to him: Maile, then me, then Keala, then Emme.  One wave crashed so hard into the pool that it swept Maile and Shane up into a bit of a whirlpool, which was both thrilling and scary to watch, and ended well with Maile laughing and swimming to the side of the rock where she got out and dried off. 

We decided to leave and started back across the rough lava rocks.  Someone said, “Where’d Shane go?” When we looked back, he was back on the top of the rocks.  In the blink of an eye, he crouched down and then was in the air, touching his feet before releasing into a perfect dive, deep into the water that is in his blood.

The World's Best Banana Bread

On a tiny road that sometimes allows for two lanes of traffic and sometimes forces cars to back up or wait while a single lane passes, there is a sandwich board announcing Julia’s Banana Bread, the world’s best.  On an island that’s famous for its banana bread, that’s a pretty arrogant boast.  But the road is long and winding and we just may never get back to it, so we stopped at the acid green hut. 

Settled on a small hillside next to a taro paddy, Julia’s is equipped with a few cold drinks and a heater that keeps the banana bread warm.  There are expensive dried fruit packages and taro chips.  Nothing is less than $5 for a small pack and the bread is $6 a loaf.  But it’s Maui.  And I looked at the woman behind the counter – who may or may not be Julia herself – and I decided that nothing would really be awful in Maui, not if it was home made with love by a Hawaiian tita (auntie), and if this is how they make their living – not in a Wal-mart or a McDonald’s or in an office or by making their banana bread in a high-tech factory with preservatives and then shipping it to stores – then why can’t I just take out the middle man and give them the money for such a delicious endeavor?

I bought two loaves, a package of chips, a pack of trail mix and some dried mango thing that Raf wanted.  $32 and worth every single penny.  The chips didn’t even make it back up the hill.

Dragon's Teeth

Maui is a mixture of softness (balmy tradewinds, perfectly slushy Hawaiian shave ice and pina coladas, melt-in-your-mouth banana bread, ukulele lullabies, fragrant plumeria blossoms falling from trees) and strength (jagged lava rocks, pummeling ocean waves, thick, muscular Hawaiian men and women). 

On the edge of the Ritz-Carlton property at Kapalua – you have to park in the middle, then walk across a beautifully manicured golf course – is a natural wonder called Dragon’s Teeth.  On the edge of a cliff, a pathway of crooked lava rock “teeth” juts up from the sea, a reminder that the ocean can swallow you whole, but it just might chew you up first.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Weird Kids, Part 2

The last thing Kendra said to the kids yesterday before they went off into the night in homemade costumes fashioned from baby blankets, socks, ropes of toilet paper, flippers, floaties and the random luchadore mask was, "Don't make a huge mess and stick together." 

Monday, August 1, 2011

Da Life

Happy Hour, again? Well, okay...
The last time we came to Maui, I didn’t know what to expect. I have friends and an aunt who have visited Hawaii countless times and I didn’t understand the attraction.  It seemed like the island version of Disneyland: dudes in Hawaiian shirts, tourists with cameras, sunburnt kids crabbing at their parents.  But we were lured by the idea of a vacation with Shane and Kendra and their kids, so what the hey?

Maui is much more than we expected.  So easy.  It smells good here, and the air is warm and balmy, and it’s easy to get lulled into an afternoon nap by the tradewinds.  The kids can run free, from beach to pool or up and down the hallways and elevators.  Happy hour is from 3 to 6 every afternoon, and the coconut drinks with the colorful parasols and pineapple wedges are half-price.  There is always a fresh towel waiting for you by the pool.  Bathing suits double as undies. 

When people talk about vacations, this is what they mean. 


Honolua Dreamin'

Yesterday, the weather was balmy and pretty, only a little overcast, so we took a drive to Honolua Bay.  The last we came here, I was nervous about snorkeling – the bay is large and deep and filled with fish – but I let Raf talk me into paddling out to the middle and it was such a highlight. 

I remember making the connection about a phrase my yoga teacher had said: “you are not the surface of the lake; you ARE the lake.”  That time, it was windy on the top of the water, but below the surface it was teeming with peaceful life, fish going about their lives without ever knowing what was on the shore, in the air, on the boats above them. 

So this time I remembered that I loved it and just allowed myself to get ready and go, no expectations.  We got our picnics ready, parked on the side of the road, mosquito-repelled, trekked through the canopy of the rainforest between the road and the bay, teetered on the rocky shore, got our snorkel gear on and got in the water.  Most of us.  Kendra and two of her kids hung out on the shore, books in hands, sunglasses on, waving at us as we jumped in.  The water, especially the ocean, has sometimes seemed a threatening, scary place for them (and did I mention that it’s “Shark Week” on Discovery right now?), so they were opting to just hang out and enjoy the beautiful scenery.

It was a few minutes later, as the rest of us snorkeled around the coral reefs that ring the bay, that I saw Kendra picking her way toward us on the rocky shoreline, gear in hand.  She jumped on an inner tube and Shane towed her out to us, then Keala came up and did the same.  I fastened a clothesline around our three inner tubes and we made up a little hobo-boat caravan.  Safety in numbers.

“This is huge for me,” Kendra said, still tentative even though we were a quarter of a mile from the shore.  “But I remember that it was one of your favorite things last time, so I wanted to try it.”

I didn’t want to say anything – the same idea as when a child tries a vegetable for the first time and you don’t want to break the spell, you just want to let them discover that they love it on their own, that doing something good for themselves can actually be something they like – but I had a grin brewing from ear-to-ear. 

We paddled around, checking out the spectrum of corals on the ocean floor, investigating the nooks and crevices of the bay’s underwater valleys, all while securely attached to our inner tube caravan, faces plunged just a few inches below the surface.  We oohed and ahhed and pointed out beautiful fish to each other.  I wasn’t sure how long they would want to stay there with me, but I didn’t place any expectations on it. The fact that they had been nervous but swallowed their fears and went anyway was huge for me. Bravery comes in everyday packages, and I recognized this one.  I wanted to be with the moment for as long as they liked.

After an hour or more, we got hungry.  “But if we go in, we can come back out, right?” Kendra asked in the garbled language of someone biting on a snorkel mouthpiece, but I could understand. 

“Of course,” I said, pointing to the right side of Honolua.  “I haven’t been to that part of the bay yet.”

Under the fog of her snorkel mask, Kendra smiled.  Twenty minutes later, we had eaten and were back out, this time with two kids towed behind us and two more paddling a boogie board behind them. 

As we paddled, I saw a wall of lava rock close to the shore that began to ripple.  “Oh my god!” I said, looking up at Kendra, who realized that it was a school of fish, like the one in Finding Nemo.  Hundreds of fish – seriously, at least 500 of them! – the same color and size, swimming the same way and then one would turn and the rest would turn, too, and then they’d be swimming  the same way.

She looked at me and poked her head out of the water. We were only a few inches away from them.  I thought she might panic. 

She took the mouthpiece away so I could hear her clearly.  “Let’s follow ‘em!” she said.

So we did, chasing the wildness of the ocean, moving from the silver gray fish school to the yellow and black angelfish to the Technicolor rainbow fish that led us a half-mile from “safety” and into the beauty of the unknown.  From time to time, the kids behind us would say, “Where are you taking us?!” then they’d fall off the raft and laugh and flounder and giggle and flail and get back up, waiting for the next adventure.

Later, Shane said he’d seen a sea turtle and had grabbed onto its shell for a quick ride.  That would have been amazing to see, but I feel like we were just as daring, far out of our comfort zone, changed again by Honolua Bay.