Sunday, February 20, 2011

Maui days

We've been here in Maui for a week and a half and it feels like a month at least. Thea and I traveled for 14 hours to get here, but it turned out wonderfully. She slept pretty much the whole time on both flights, for which I am grateful - no need for purple medicine or anything of the sort. We arrived in Maui and were greeted by Matt and Liam, lei in hand. Thea was really glad to see her dad, did the run-into-his-arms thing. Very cool. Liam was pretty glad to see me, too, I think. We went back to Matt's mom's house to decompress and soon decided to head down to the beach. Thea immediately stripped down to nothing and ran like a mad woman in circles in the surf. Liam showed me his boogie-boarding prowess. The sun set. It was fabulous. Back at the house, Thea seemed sad and as it turned out she had come down with the same stomach bug I had the night before, but otherwise, it all went smoothly. I headed off soon to the airport to pick up Chris and head out for more than three weeks in a tent. That first night we camped in a private campground, pretty full of people, near Lahina, then woke in the morning to get provisions and head to Hana, on the East side of the island. Hana is a rural town, more cows than people, and though a batch of tourists typically cycle through daily, it is much less tourist-oriented than the more urban areas of Maui. In the past, I have come here for a couple days. This time, it is making up the bulk of the trip, and I couldn't be happier about that. It's a long drive to get to Hana, twisting and turning through the rainforest, past waterfalls and vine-covered trees and over bridges that date back over 100 years. It's a bit like going back in time, too, into real Hawaii.
We set up base in a National Park, pitching our tent on a pinacle of ground overlooking rolling surf crashing into jet-black lava rocks. Each morning, the sun rises right out the front vestible of our tent, and we have coffee looking out on the incredible scene of ocean and mountains and palm trees. It's much cooler in Hana, the breeze is constant and the air moist, but even that suits us both. The first few days were a montage of introducing Chris to the area. We quickly settled into a dodge-the-ranger routine that has allowed us so far to stay our entire trip at this one campground, despite the 3-day limit. We leave before the campground booth is manned and breakfast in town at a park, then go on to our day. This has been a low-budget trip, to be sure, with our main expense being food. A Costco run initially and some supplements from the local store have made it so we haven't even used a cooler. Oatmeal, Ramen, and lentil soup have made up a large part of our diet here, while protein from the local store adds to the evening entree. It's very simple, but sufficient. Fresh fruit hangs from the trees and is amply available at roadside stands. Chris' response to the first banana he ate here? "Oh my god, that's the best banana I've ever eaten." We did run into a snag the first evening in Hana when the cook stove we had malfunctioned and caught fire. There was a fairly comical scene where Chris was trying to move it from place to place and I wondered if the flames would back into the bottle, explode and hit the car, but a towel was sacrificed in the name of safety and the flame was extinguished. It did leave us without a stove, however, but we found a replacement at the local store that has worked well, so that was pretty minimal in impact.
So how have we spent our days? We are fairly proficient at being beach bums at this point, sitting in the sunshine for hours at a time. Chris has enjoyed the surf and snorkeling at various locations. We've hiked around in the woods, visited lava fields, driven remote roads over desolate land that seems so remote, it's hard to believe so many people travel here and never venture beyond the normal routine. We've read a lot, stared at the water a lot, caught the occasional local baseball game, and puttered through the day. It's amazing how little you can do when camping - just the simple acts of life require a lot of forethought and planning. Heck, finding the onion amidst the chaos of the car is a feat in itself. But it has been nearly 20 years since I have camped extensively like this, and I am finding it to be a hugely enriching experience. Simple memories, like the smell of the spice bag, bring back thoughts of a simple time in my life in my early 20s when I camped up the west coast with Jerzy. Then, somehow, I stopped doing that. No more. If I take anything from this trip, it's that camping is something I will do more from here on out.
After a week solo in Hana, we drove to Kihei to pick up Liam and Thea. The kids were excited to go camp, and it was wonderful to see them after so long. Thea's shining eyes peered out at me from behind the car and I was enveloped in their arms - it was quite an experience. I was hit with the realization that I missed the all at once, rather than pining for them while they weren't with me - it was like I felt all the missing I should have been doing for the week in one moment. Wham. We piled in the car and headed out after a few stops at stores for provisions, etc. The little rental car was jammed with stuff - boogie boards, etc., and we wound our way back to Hana as the kids got more and more car sick. As we pulled up to "breakfast park" in Hana, Liam pronounced that he had to throw up and I hastily stopped in the road just in time to avoid an in-the-car illness. As kids do, though, Liam quickly rebounded and within 10 minutes was on the beach showing me his prowess as a boogie boarder once again. Very cool. We made our way out to the campsite and set up for the night as clouds rolled in and the winds got more intense. Hana is a rainy place, but thus far, Chris and I had had very nice weather for the most part. That night and the next were the wettest since we had arrived, but even so, the kids did pretty well. We hiked up to the waterfalls near the campground - a 3-mile hike that Thea managed with grace, and a few bruises on her shins. The next day was a beach day, and one morning we went to the seven sacred pools and swam in the cool freshwater streams before heading back to Kihei. We got in trouble with the park ranger for skirting the pool closed sign and going into the water anyway, much to the concern of Liam, our rule-follower in residence. But the ranger opened the pools only a few minutes after we broke in, so it turned out our judgement was solid and the water levels, which had been significant the day before because of all the rain, had sufficiently receded. For the drive back to Kihei, we drove around the back road from Hana, ending up in Upcountry. I'd never been on that road, despite 8 years of visiting Maui, and it was one of the more thrilling parts of the trip thus far. The terrain was so rugged and remote, starting in the rainforest and then easing into dry land with wild goats grazing and finally into super-dry lava fields and last of all, the lush, cool tree-covered Upcountry area, where there is even a vineyard. We toured Makawa, a small town in upcountry with a western bent, where Chris was happy to see cowboy hats and such ilk aplenty. Thea tried to terrify Chris in an art shop by manhandling $7,000 quilts and statues, and we watched a glass-blowing operation in progress. Then we dropped the kids off amid a thunderstorm and headed in darkness back to Hana - an experience for sure driving that road without any concept of what was around the next bend.
We are no longer the whitest people here, and the toughest decision we have in a day is which beach to go to and what to eat for dinner. I'm writing a bit, and Chris tried his had at fishing this morning, but mostly, it's pretty simple. And oddly, that is working just fine for me - I'm surprised at my newfound capacity to be a sloth - something I doubt I had the capacity to do in years past. Perhaps it's just that now, work doesn't constitute my sense of personal fullfillment? I don't know. Something has shifted. I think it's a good thing, though.

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