The biggest obstacle we faced in planning our second trip to Hawaii was our dog. Taking the dog with us seemed like a bad idea. The ancient Polynesians used to eat dog. Leaving the dog at a professional kennel would have tortured our consciences. One really couldn’t impose upon nearby friends. One was likely to come home with no friends.
Nearby in-laws, however, are designed for just such purposes. Derry’s father, who has always shared our opinion that “Duffy” was more than just a dog (how much more, after what he did to their carpet, may now be open to question) agreed to take him in.
But how does one get a dog to Philadelphia? The solution lay in our free United Airlines tickets (earned by frequent flying) which were good for a first class round trip ticket anywhere United flew. Since United flew from Philadelphia, so did we. After dropping off Duffy with his “what? You’re leaving me?” expression, we boarded a DC-10 for Honolulu.
During the next thirteen hours we learned several important things about flying first class. One of the bit advantages is that you are located so far forward in the cabin that when you look outside you can’t see the wings wobbling. The sight of wobbling wings has always distressed me. Mechanical theories about aluminum notwithstanding, no one has ever convinced me that wobbling is good for the wings.
Another advantage is that there aren’t screaming kids in first class. (Just a coincidence? Or does the airline screen them out: “Let’s see sonny, you say you’ve got a first class ticket? Let me ask you straight-out. Do you scream? Do you cry? Do you play with video games? Sorry, back of the plane.”) As this was likely to be our last vacation together before we ourselves had a screaming kid (Derry was four months pregnant) it was all the more appreciated.
There is a lot of food served in first class. To be prudent, treat flying first class as you would major surgery: don’t eat anything for 24 hours ahead of time. In the words of one stewardess: “Believe me, you are going to eat you way across the Pacific,” and we did.
Derry and I had always felt the same kind of smugness at having seen the Hawaiian Islands without having gone to Maui (the trendy, jet-set island) that my father has felt at having toured Venice without once having been lured into a gondola. Yet we were so impressed with Hawaii in general, and enough people had claimed that “Maui is the best) (in fact that’s the island’s official motto believe it or not) that we’d decided to give Maui a try. Because we couldn’t afford much flying around between islands, we had decided to only go to Maui, which I suppose would be like my father going back to Venice and never getting out of a gondola.
The phrase “less is more” applies to travel between Honolulu and Maui. The big airlines, like “Aloha” and “Air Hawaii” fly Boeing 737’s between the capitals of the islands. You take off, climb to 10,000 feet, immediately start your descent, and—poof!—you’re on another island.
For the same price you can fly into smaller airstrips via Royal Hawaiian Airlines, whose largest plane is a twin-Cessna. After spending the night in Honolulu we boarded one of these the next morning for a flight to Kaanapali, a small airfield on the western tip of Maui.
I was allowed to sit in the co-pilot’s seat. In 1974 I’d been offered a job flying this exact model of aircraft on a commuter run from Mason City to Minneapolis. As I sat in the co-pilot’s seat I wondered what my life would have been like if I’d accepted that job. Scary, the sweeping changes we bring about by decisions we make while we’re still too young to make such decisions.
The twin Cessna leveled off at 3,500 feet after climbing out of the Honolulu traffic pattern. The city was glimmering in the sunlight, the slush green mountains behind it providing the perfect backdrop. Ahead, just visible through a small rain-shower, was the island of Molokai. Molokai, although the closest island in the chain to Oahu, has not really been discovered. Or maybe it’s been discovered and been passed over.
Except by the Marriot Corporation. The western end of Molokai (Molokai is shaped like a cucumber), is reminiscent of the panhandle of Texas: not the kind of place you’d choose for a resort development. But Marriot, in an effort perhaps no less remarkable than the effort of the Jewish nation in trying to reclaim the Galilee, is trying to turn Molokai’s western tip into a lush resort. From a plane at 3,500 feet, it looked more like someone spilled green ink on brown paper. As we flew closer we could see that about fifty acres had been irrigated, had turned green with the magic of grass and, as if it had awaited only the chambermaid’s proper preparation of its bed, a large modern resort hotel had been set down in the middle of it.
The twin Cessna continued along Molokai’s northern coast. The landscape changed swiftly. Soon we were looking at cliffs: green, foliage-covered cliffs. Steep cliffs. High cliffs. Rugged cliffs. (As rugged as a cliff can look when carpeted with velvety-soft greenery.)
This was the rainy side of Molokai. The rain landed on the cliffs and fell into the sea, creating waterfalls. Our pilot, who doubled as our friendly tour guide, pointed out that these were the highest sea cliffs in the world. The plane’s altimeter read 1,000 feet, and we were slightly below the tops of the cliffs. The pilot was giving us a good ride for the money.
There was no sign of human habitation anywhere. Not surprising, since humans would have fallen off the cliffs. Maybe you can’t really judge the habitation level of a cliff without a close inspection of the cliff’s base; which is where those who live there would land after falling off.
Up ahead, a small peninsula could be seen jutting out from the island. As contrasted to the cliffs, it was completely flat. One had the impression that a cliff had melted, someone had pulled the plug, and now it lay like a deflated beach balloon in a toy store, out of synch with its surroundings.
This was the Kapulua peninsula, the leper colony. The pilot pulled back the throttles and let the plane drop down to about 200 feet above the sea. We crossed directly over the peninsula and achieved a brief glimpse of the area described so frighteningly in Michener’s “Hawaii.” In my opinion, it looked a lot more hospitable and inviting than the Marriot’s Molokai resort, although this may have stemmed from my awareness that a cure has been found for leprosy.
The pilot banked the plane and maneuvered us closer to the cliffs. “Look up that valley,” he said. I looked and at the very end saw a long stream of water falling from the top of the cliff. “Highest waterfall in Hawaii!” he told us proudly. I looked at it more intently, now aware of its rank. A tour bus would have a hard time getting to this one.
Thirty minutes after leaving Honolulu, the island of Maui came into view. It looked gray and rounded. Soon the gray gave way to green. We passed the eastern tip of the Molokai cucumber and began our descent to the Kaanapali airfield. The island of Lanai, anchored just twenty miles to the south of Maui, was now also in view. The pilot brought the throttles all the way back, mixture rich, prop controls full forward, 60 degrees of flap. Fuel pump on. Carb heat on. Gear down. (Three green lights and it was locked. ) We banked onto final. Thump, thump! Those twin Cessna’s hadn’t improved their landing characteristics. We taxied to a stop in front of the strip’s only building: a one room ticketing office. We had arrived on Maui.
The Hyatt Regency
For us, the key to having a good time in Hawaii is to rely on a book called “Hidden Hawaii.” Hidden Hawaii takes a sort of Frommer-esque view of travel: the less one spends, the more fun will be had. HH steers the reader away from what the author calls the “Mondo-condo mentality of places like Waikiki beach, and towards the unknown spots: remote valleys, hidden beaches, local Hawaiian hangouts, etc.
While on Maui, the only concession we intended to make to the routine tourist track was to stay two nights at the Maui Hyatt Regency, courtesy of a frequent flyer complimentary coupon. This was a mistake. After two nights at the Hyatt our desire to head for the remote valleys had lessened.
The Maui Hyatt Regency is one of the most impressive hotels in the world. Take the swimming pool, for example. You’d expect it to be very good. But you’d have underestimated it. The swimming pool at the Maui Hyatt is more like an inland lagoon. Sprawling over several landscaped acres, it includes waterfalls, rope suspension bridges, exotic foliage, waterslides, and rock-cavern tunnels (with bars inside for the serious drinkers who can’t make it from one end of the other without refreshment.)
There are numerous other ponds and watercourses sprinkled generously on all sides of the hotel itself, and reserved for the likes of swans, goldfish, flamingoes, and penguins. I think the penguins were included in this tropical setting in the same way a decorator uses colorful throw pillows: to provide an accent to an otherwise monochromatic setting. If it weren’t for the penguins, you’d be tempted to think “Ho, hum, another tropical paradise. Too bad it’s already been done.” The penguins keep you off balance.
OF course there’s also a postcard-perfect beach on one side of the hotel, and an equally perfect (I presume) golf course on the other.
The inside of the hotel has not been neglected. The lobby is small and unassuming, but once past it the guest enters an atrium. This atrium is large enough to generates its own weather patterns. Decoration in the atrium is “terrarium modern,” lots of trees, plants, fountains, parrots, etc. As one continues in search of the correct bank of elevators one enters what I call “Boutique Alley.” If you want to acquire some original Delacroix paintings to enhance your stay in the tropics, boutique alleys is where you would go. One shop sells only crystal. Another, only imported designer shoes.
The open-air loftiness of the atrium has now given way to the elegance of highly polished mahogany paneling. I assume it’s mahogany, any lesser wood would have been very out of place. The ceiling must have been lower at this juncture for I remember there was one. Probably made of marble or jade or something. If so it could have been acquired locally. One of the shops sold only marble. Another, only jade.
I’m one of those people that for some reason wants to buy everything in sight whenever I go into a hardware store. For some reason, nothing on Boutique Alley interested me. Perhaps there’s a protective mechanism built into the brain that adjusts one’s desires to not reach too far beyond one’s capacities. Having soberly evaluated my own capacities, my brain is wise to have focused my interest on hardware rather than on jade figurines.
Eventually we reached our room. I was disappointed. No parrots or penguins. What kind of a hotel was this anyway? At least the price was right. From the balcony you could look one way and see the beach and the ocean, or the other way and see the golf course. I chose the first way. Directly below was an outdoor arena where every night is performed the “South Seas Extravaganza: Drums of the Pacific!” It cost thirty dollars per person and includes dinner, but we saw it every night from our balcony for free. The first night we felt lucky. The second night we were trying to get the balcony doors to shut tighter.
No one is going to accuse the Hyatt of neglecting its restaurants, although I can describe only one of them. Breakfast was the only meal we ate at the hotel, and we ate it at the same place each morning: the Swan Court. In Detroit or Memphis a place called the Swan Court would be a seedy motel or a past-its-prime pastel ballroom, with cracks on the walls and pictures of faded movie stars. At the Hyatt, the Swan Court is a multi-tiered restaurant, opening via thirty foot tall folding doors onto a landscaped pond trimmed with palm tress and rocks, over which flow waterfalls that shimmer in the morning sunlight. Beyond is the blue of the ocean and in the distance, the island of Lanai.
I would have considered all this decoration enough. The title “Swan Court” had already been earned in my estimation. But at the Hyatt nothing is left to the imagination. Shortly after being seated, and as the sun was coming up, out came the swans. These swans knew their act. They glided back and forth, in general minding their own routines, but careful to always present an artistically balanced tableau for the diners. Nothing could have been more pleasant and peaceful.
At least it was peaceful until the black swan decided to attack the white swans. Bigger than the others, he began chasing the white swans with a vengeance. Squawking vehemently, he slashed his way across the waiter, sending the poor white swans hissing and screeching in all directions. The elegant guests began to raise their eyebrows at this breach of decorum. Just how was one to concentrate on ones coconut crepes amidst such disturbance? The black swan was being such a bore. There really was nothing for it but to summon the maitre ‘d…
The situation deteriorated swiftly. While Derry and I pondered what it was that kept the swans from climbing out of the water and into the restaurant itself, one of the white swans began pondering the same thing. Finding no answer, and suddenly under attack himself, he headed for the Swan Court. Climbing out of the pond, he paused just long enough to shake his feathers and send the dripping water in all directions.
Furious at this escape, the black swan followed. Soon we were witnessing table by table fighting reminiscent of the U.S. Marines’ inter-island campaign during World War II. The black swan pursued the white amidst linen tablecloths, silver serving trays, and velvet-cushioned arm chairs. To their credit none of the elderly ladies screamed. This was the Swan Court, after all. Just what did one expect? Watching the richly-attired guests cope with the situation reminded me that the nobility is accustomed to enduring hardships with a sublime strength of character.
The Maitre ‘d and his assistants were not. Accompanied by a great deal of hand-wringing and despairing glances at the guests, the staff finally succeeded in escorting the warring fowl back to the pond. All this travel had mellowed the black swan, at least. Foreign campaigns were not to his liking, perhaps. He swam off in dignity.
But the white swan, having discovered that at least one of the guests was willing to toss him crumbs, stayed near the tables. but soon I had none left so we went back to our room.
It was the most exciting breakfast I’d ever had, and I can only assume the floor shows at the other restaurants were equally good.
There are about ten items on my list of things I must experience during this lifetime. Things like visiting Antarctica, learning Spanish, taking a balloon ride, and so forth. These aren’t the kinds of things one can methodically accomplish. They have to be snapped up when the opportunity presents itself.
Some time ago I had decided to remove parachuting from the list. I don’t know any parachutists who haven’t lost a few friends in that sport. Hang gliding didn’t last too long either. I went to a hang-gliding place a few years ago in the Catskills and after hearing the pitch, asked jokingly “How many of your students were killed last year?”
“Only one!” was the proud response.
Two items remaining on the list are scuba diving and wind surfing. It’s always been a personal embarrassment to me that my sister Beth is already a wind surfer and accomplished scuba diver.
The first morning I woke up in Maui I pledged to Derry that by evening I would have at least tried both activities. The schedule of the day’s events at the Hyatt included something called a “windsurfing clinic” on the beach at 9:00. For us, 9:00 a.m. was equivalent to about noon because our bodies hadn’t yet adjusted to the time zone difference. We’d find ourselves waking u at 4:30 am, playing gin rummy for an hour, and then being the first down to the Swan Court when it opened at 6:00. Certainly by 9:00 I was ready for windsurfing.
The teacher had a mock windsurfer mounted on a pedestal in the sand. I approached warily. I have heard windsurfing compared to skiing, sailing, surfing, and—by Beth—to bongo-boards. I’m pretty good at all those except surfing. The last (and only) time I’d tried surfing, which was during my last visit to Hawaii, I’d seriously damaged my ego. I couldn’t even sit up on the board in calm water without falling off. Now, as I eyed that colorful windsurfer mounted in the sand, I somehow knew that my experience as a surfer would be a reliable gauge of my talent with this contraption.
After teaching us the motions involved in the sport, we were told to swim about fifty yards off shore to where a half dozen windsurfers were moored. The swim nearly killed us all. Fifty yards through heavy surf (which this was to my eye) is a bad way to start. I arrived at my windsurfer and just lay on it for a few minutes. A quick glance around assured me that my classmates were in no better shape. I’d actually arrived first, which helped my confidence.
By following the instructions closely I was able to stand up on the board (we were past the heavy surf) raise the wishbone sail rig upright and eventually make the board move through the water. None of the boards could move far because they were tethered to their moorings, and could only operate within a 100 foot circle. As the instructor put it “We don’t want you sailing off to Lanai now, do we?” There didn’t seem much chance of that in my case. Every minute of so a wave would knock me off the board, or the sail rig would pull me over or I would just get in an impossible position and jump off so I could begin afresh (much like pulling the plug on a computer when you’re stuck in an unpleasant subroutine.
By the end of the hour I was physically exhausted. My self-confidence was at a low ebb. All I could taste in my mouth was salt. Yet I was able to maneuver the board from one end of the tether to the other, come about at each end, and sail back to the other side of the circle. The instructor, lazing on a surfboard and giving advice to her students, said I was doing well and that if I came back the next day, she’d let me off the tether. I felt like a child being told that if I cleaned my room I could go out and play. -She said I’d be surprised at how much easier it would seem my second day.
She was right. The swim was easier. Getting upright was easier. Falling off was easier. After ten minutes of warm-up, the instructor paddled over, told me the boundaries of the practice area (“that diving platform over there, that two-masted schooner over there, and no closer than fifty years to the beach), and—freedom at last—unhooked my tether. I was off!
I discovered quickly that a windsurfer not attached to a tether is more pleasant than one which is. No more having to come about every 100 feet. No more sailing along and suddenly stopping. I found myself moving steadily through the water at what I’d guess was about five knots. On my first outbound leg I passed a sea turtle swimming along the surface of the water. He raised his head and looked at me, and I looked at him, and a kind of mutual truce developed. I think the turtle realized that despite my speed I had very little control of my direction, hence posing no threat. As for the turtle, I realized that he had the opposite problem: agile but slow. We stared at each other enviously, each covering the other’s talents, wondering if a partnership could be arranged. But soon we were out of each other’s sight and both went about our business.
I was rapidly nearing the upwind border of the practice area. In regular sailing, going upwind is harder for novices than going downwind. But the instructor had only taught us how to go upwind on these windsurfers. My experience as a sailor helped only to the extent that I realized I was going in one direction and needed to go in the other. The relationship between the two sports ends at about that level.
I had now passed the upwind border of the practice area and beyond was only open water, and the island of Lanai. (“We don’t want you sailing off to Lanai, now, do we?”). I began to think back nostalgically to the pleasures of a tether.
Through trial and error I eventually devised a form of “broad reach” that allowed me to tack back downwind and rejoin civilization inside the practice area. With this degree of control I was able to navigate on a rudimentary level. At the end of the hour I maneuvered the craft right back to the tether buoy. Or almost. I passed it within a few yards and jumped off and swam the board over to it. So what?
As far as I was concerned, I’d earned my windsurfing merit badge. Impressions? Bongo boards probably are good practice for windsurfing. Bongo boards are primarily a mental discipline. If you’re convinced you can stand up, you will be able to. Otherwise not. I found no relationship between windsurfing and skiing, sailing, or surfing. (With surfing, if you’re convinced you can stand up, you’re probably wrong…)
While I was taking my windsurfing lesson Derry was arranging for me to go scuba diving later in the afternoon. Lahaina Divers, Inc., one of several scuba outfitters on Maui, arranges novice dives where no prior experience is necessary.
There were six of us novices in the dive boat as we headed away from Lahaina’s wharf. Like every day in Hawaii it was sunny, warm, and cooling trade winds were blowing. I was curious to see to what exotic locale we would be taken for diving on our first reef. The boat cut through the gentle swells and I could look down forty or fifty feet and see the bottom, the water was so clear. Soon the Hyatt Hotel came into view and I could see the windsurfers practicing in the practice area.
To my surprise the boat turned in towards the hotel, and the anchor was dropped about 300 yards offshore. “One of the best diving reefs in all of Hawaii” our instructor told us. I might have discarded this as hype thrown to the novices were it not for the fact that there were also two experienced divers from Colorado who had come along to dive on the reef with us. they donned their gear and slipped over the side quickly, leaving the instructor to this students. I’ve always considered scuba divers macho Lloyd Bridges types so it was comforting that our jovial instructor was fat and looked out of shape. I and probably everyone else was thinking “If someone like this can be a scuba diver, so can I!”
Making your first dive on a reef in open water is not the normal path by which beginners are introduced to the sport. Usually a lot of work is done first in a pool, or sheltered, shallow water so that familiarity with the equipment can be developed.
Not so in this case. No time was wasted on theory, or the scuba diver’s code of ethics, or any of the classroom stuff you’d normally expect to endure as a beginner. Instead, we were given about 45 minutes of instruction in the basics, sitting under the shade of the boat’s canopy. We learned how to clear the face mask of water, how to release the pressure in your ears while descending, how to clear water out of the regulator if the mouthpiece comes out, etc.
Next we got in the water, held onto a rope attached to the stern of the boat, and practiced.
Once back in the boat, the instructor spent a great deal of time preparing us for underwater communication.
“As I mentioned, it’s important never to hold your breath and swim rapidly to the surface,” he began. “You might ask why anyone would do this. But take this example. We’re on the reef, I find an octopus and I hand it to you, not realizing you’re terrified of having to hold an octopus. You might panic, drop your mouthpiece, hold your breath, and take off for the surface. Don’t do that. If you don’t want to hold the octopus, just make a pushing motion with one hand (demonstrates) and I’ll give the octopus to somebody else. In this outfit, no one has to hold an octopus if they don’t want to.”
Several of us found this reassuring, and I was glad to see I wasn’t the only one surreptitiously practicing the “No, I don’t want to hold the octopus” hand signal. The instructor continued, “Now, if anyone is hoping to see Jaws II down there, you’re going to be disappointed. This body of water is home only to small tropical fish, and of course the whales during whale season.
I breathed easier, knowing it was not whale season. “The only thing you need to be concerned about are the moray eels.”
Several of the students began removing their equipment.
“Moray eels aren’t really a problem, “ he reassured us, “unless they get angry.”
I wasn’t sure how to digest this. Was he going to show us the hand motion for calming an angry eel?
“The only way an eel is going to get angry is if you stick your hand in his hole on the reef,” he continued. “So if you see a hole in the reef, don’t stick your hand in it.”
This was the kind of straightforward instruction I liked.
“Now another thing to remember. If I hand you something on the tip of my knife, it means I want you to look at it, not touch it. It’s poisonous.”
This was unlike any kind of schooling I’d ever received. You got the impression that if you didn’t listen closely, you would die a horrible death. I found myself trying to erase all knowledge stored over the last 32 years so my brain would have room to remember the three most important facts of life: Don’t touch things handed to you on a knife. Don’t stick your hand into holes on the reef. And you don’t have to hold the octopus if you don’t want to.
With these and other fundamentals of scuba diving under our belts, we headed down towards the reef.
I’ve seen enough James Bond movies to know how scuba divers are supposed to descend: head down, flutter kick with the legs. Preferably with one or more other divers trying to attacking you with spear guns. You don’t do it that way on the beginner dive. In single file ((I was last), we swam to the front of the boat. As each student took hold of the anchor line, the instructor reached over and released the air from our buoyancy vests. Inasmuch as we were each wearing about 20 pounds in lead weights, the net effect was to send us towards the bottom. But slowly. The scuba tank itself is buoyant, and even with the lead weights we could almost float motionless—neither rising nor sinking.
As I went feet first down the anchor line, the instructor was right beside me, watching closely to make sure I cleared the pressure from my ears. My first surprise was how quickly the pressure built up, measured by the slight pain in the eardrum. I found I was most comfortable clearing them almost every two feet.
We were diving at about 35 feet of depth, which is not a deep dive. As I neared the bottom I could see the boat’s anchor hooked into one of the crevices in the coral. I’d always wondered what became of an anchor after being tossed overboard. Now I knew.
As soon as I reached the bottom I realized I had a problem which needed to be communicated to the instructor: my buoyancy vest had not been completely emptied of air and my body was trying to rise slowly towards the surface. We had been warned of this, and various other minor problems we might encounter, and knew the hand signals for communicating them to the instructor.
He reached over, found the correct valve amidst all the hardware I was wearing, and released the rest of the air from the vest. Now my body had a net tendency to sink. This was strange, having so little control of my own movements. At least on the windsurfer I was a dynamic participant, pitting my coordination and stamina against the will of the board to capsize. Now I was at the mercy of strange hands that reached for me silently, and adjusted unfamiliar knobs and dials.
I did find that if I kept moving forward, using a gentle flutter kick, I could stay even, neither rising nor falling. Sharks must do the same thing, I’ve been told. They have to keep moving or they will sink. In fact, maybe that could be worked on. Find some substance or mechanism that would bring a shark to a stop, and a diver could then arrange for every shark he met to tall to the bottom of the ocean.
with this intriguing thought in mind, I set out to explore the coral. The coral seemed rather flat. The rock caverns at the Hyatt were almost more visually interesting than this coral. But the fish were spectacular. Lots of bright, pretty fish, of the kind you see in aquariums. I almost expected to see a big air bubbler somewhere, some fake seaweed, and a ceramic turtle. But these fish were in their native element. No bumping into the sides of glass walls for them. On the other hand, no one dumping fish food in every 24 hours either. All life is a compromise…
Even more interesting than the fish were the other divers. It was necessary to look at the other divers to remember what I myself was doing. Scuba diving is so calm and relaxing (very different from snorkeling in this respect) that there is a tendency to become a little too complacent. (Or maybe there was just too much nitrogen in my tank…) But whenever I would look over at the other divers I would have the sudden realization: “My God! I’m scuba diving on a coral reef in the Pacific Ocean! This is exciting! This is high adventure!” Then I would look away and see only the pretty fish, and everything would feel so effortless that it was hard not to believe I was doing anything more thrilling than sitting in an armchair looking at pictures in National Geographic.
And the concerns about the octopuses and the eels were groundless. Nobody tried to hand me an octopus. None of the eels got angry. The instructor did hand me something on the end of his knife, but I can’t remember what it was. All poisonous things look alike to me.
At one point the instructor found a sea urchin (one of those round porcupine-looking things) and began hacking it apart with his knife. Perhaps one of the items in the as-yet-unlearned “Scuba Diver’s Code of Ethics” involved the propriety of hacking apart sea urchins wherever they are found. It also crossed my mind that the instructor might be simply bloodthirsty, and liked torturing small animals. This forced me to reevaluate my own situation: immersed in an alien environment, with the only possibility of escape in the hands of a raving sadist…
But my fears were quickly dispelled. The effect of this apparent barbarism was to attract all of the small, colorful fish in the area over to feed on the remains of the once-urchin. Soon, sparks of yellow, red, blue, and green were swarming around us in a panoply of color. The instructor, who had known all along this would happen, began shooting pictures with his underwater camera. The bloodthirsty maniac was really just an artist composing his scene. A wave of reassurance came over me and I believe if our instructor at that moment had handed me an octopus—who knows—I might even have taken it.
Finally my air began running out. I know this only theoretically. It wasn’t that I took another breath and there was no air. Attached to our vests were two gauges. One told us how deep we were (measured in feet) and he other, how much air we had left, measured in thousands of pounds of pressure.
Our instructor had told us he preferred reading these gauges himself, and didn’t want us novices concerned with them. The problem, apparently, is that a beginner gets the gauges confused and thinks to himself “Oh no! I’m down 2,200 feet with only 25 pounds of air left!!”
I had learned this lesson so well that I never looked at the gauges at all, so I was a little sad when the instructor, after examining my pressure gauge, motioned me to the surface. I remembered to keep breathing on the way up. Not doing so, we had been told, was the most dangerous thing we could do. Of course, not breathing on land can get you in trouble as well…
My head broke above the surface and I was back in reality. I swam to the platform attached to the stern of the boat, climbed out, and began removing equipment. Looking around the horizon, seeing the hotel, and the windsurfers, and the boats floating on the surface, I realized that the surface of the water is only a disguise, a house with all the curtains shut. The best thing about scuba diving, I decided, is that it let’s you open those curtains and see what’s really there.
I arrived back a t the hotel late in the afternoon and found Derry happily sunning herself by the pool. She was glad I’d returned from the terrors of the deep. A water volleyball game was being organized and I joined that for the rest of the afternoon.
By the end of the day I was beginning to feel as if I had done everything there was to do on Maui: eating breakfast with swans, windsurfing past sea-turtles, scuba diving on coral reefs, playing volleyball in swimming pools. I worried that with six more days to go on the island, I would run out of things to do. Worse, this was our last day at the Hyatt, and the Hyatt is a tough act to follow.
We left the next morning, to explore the rest of Maui.
Life Outside the Hyatt
Although we hadn’t planned to see Maui as we’d seen Switzerland the yea before—staying at a different place every night—we really had no choice. “HH”, our guidebook, described so many interesting places that woe could not afford to stay at any longer than one night, without missing one of the others.
To understand where we went, you need to understand the geography of the island. On a map, Maui resembles a turtle: a head sticking westward out of a circular body. Maui is called the Valley Isle, because it is formed of two volcanoes (one made the head, the other made the body) and in between the two is a wide, flat area which is considered the “valley,”: I’ve hard conflicting stories about this. Some claim the valley isle name derives from the sharp, velvety-green valleys that descend from the clouds, and are home to those picturesque waterfalls. Common sense discards this because all the islands in Hawaii have such beautiful valleys.
It rarely rains in the southern and the western parts of the turtle, so if you were going to build a resort on Maui that’s where you would build it. You would certainly avoid the northern and eastern areas. This is what the developers have done. On the southwest coast of the turtle’s head, just a few miles from the town of Lahaina, is the Kaanapali Beach Resort area. Condos, golf-courses, fancy hotels. This is where the Hyatt is located.
On the southwest coast of the turtles main body is the Kehei area: more condos, golf-courses, and fancy hotels. Kaanapali and Kehei are the two main tourist places. Then on the north of the island, where the head protrudes from the shell, lies the twin town of Wailuku-Kahului, Wailuku being the county seat, and Kahului being more or less a port city.
The large volcano which formed the turtle’s body is called “Haleakala,” and there is a road you can take to the top, at which point you can see the “Haleakala Crater,” which the guidebooks say will be the high point of every trip to Maui. It is certainly the steepest point. The road up to the crater ascends from sea level to 10,000 feet in forty miles! Consider the drive from Denver to the top of Loveland Pass. That’s a steep drive, but it’s only 5,000 feet in 80 miles. The Haleakala road is four times steeper.
They say it’s the toughest bicycle ride in the world. We did it by car and were exhausted when we reached the top.
All of these places: Lahaina, Kehei, Haleakala, and Kahului, are on Maui’s beaten track. If you really want to get away from it all on Maui the place to go is Hana. Hana is a village on the eastern tip of the island. IN turtle terms, it’s where the turtle would have a tail. (If turtles have tails…) Hana is always described in the travel guides as “isolated,” “remote,” “rainy,” “windswept,” “exotic,” and “inaccessible.”
After two days under the hotel Lahaina sun, a place that was rain an windswept sounded enchanting. We decided to head for Hana and see whatever we could of Maui on the way there. We envisioned spending our first night in the Kehei area. Kehei was on the way to Kahului where we had to stop to pick up state camping permits, and we thought we’d do better finding a place to stay away from a “port city” like Kahului. HH had conveyed condescension towards Kahului as “just a port city,” so—always hoping to assume the mantle of knowledgeable tourists—we spoke condescendingly about Kahului as “Just a port city” also, without knowing why this was a bad thing to be.
As it turned out, we didn’t like Kehei, but found Kahului quite a nice place. (For a port city.)
Why didn’t we like Kehei? In the Lahaina-Kaanapali area the architecture was distinctive yet harmonious. Landscaping was excellent. Although a “made resort,” it had been made well. This could not be said of Kehei. Kehei gives off an “el-cheapo condo developers gone berserk,” ambiance. Landscaping is unknown. Bland condos are haphazardly scattered. I doubt there is a zoning board, but if there is it’s members must be rich from illegal payoffs.
Granted, this opinion was from just a quick glance at the outskirts, but we were not persuaded to stay and see more. We decided to risk spending the night in a port city instead.
Wailuku-Kahului is charming. Maybe it’s because we weren’t expecting much. It wraps around a sedate harbor (to my eye more of a Polynesian cove, but it did have one buoy in the middle of it.) There are only four motels and they are all lined up together along the shoreline. There is a curious less-than-arm’s-length relationship between them, because you can use your room key to charge meals at any of the four dining rooms. The rates seemed comparable, but at one the man at the desk told me they also had a “businessman’s rate.” I said “Great! I’m a businessman!” He said “Great! You get the rate!”
My kind of place.
We went to another of the hotels for dinner because they were having their Sunday night “Hawaiian Buffet” special, which had received mention in “HH.” Ever since arriving on Maui I’d been able to indulge at least once a day in Mahi-Mahi, a type of fish which is lightly and lovingly fried in egg batter. The buffer gave us a chance to sample some other items, about some of which—unfortunately—it can only be said that they were probably sufficient for keeping previous generations of Hawaiians alive.
Most notable of these was poi. The is a joke about poi. Everyone who tastes it says it tastes like white paste. The joke is that everyone also admits they’ve never tasted paste. So the best way to describe poi is to say that it tastes the way you would expect paste to taste. (Now say that fast 100 times.)
Other items spread out at the feast included things like coconut squid, roast pork wrapped in seaweed (lau-lau), and a sort of octopus casserole. (No, I was not tempted to hold the octopus casserole either.)
Derry, who had been diligently following her prescribed diet for pregnancy, confessed that if it was up to her she would be a good sport and eat lots of poi and seaweed, but that “baby” didn’t really want to eat those things. (An intelligent child, I can see the signs already.)
The next morning we went in search of our camping permits. Our guidebook had warned us that camping regulations were rigidly enforced on Maui, and that permits were required.
This bothered me. Being required to obtain formal state permission to lay down a sleeping bag and go to sleep has always carried a certain fascist connotation in my mind. In this instance I had visions of a tough, 350 pound Hawaiian in loin cloth ripping aside the door of our tent with his sharpened whalebone saber and demanding: “Vher are ur papers! Ah. Das ist goot! Aloha!”
So we had decided to play it safe and get the papers. The state park most highly recommended by HH in the Hana areas (remember Hana? Rainy, wind-swept, inaccessible…) was called Waianapanapa. (With names like that one can understand why the Hana area is so undeveloped.) We intended to camp at Wainapanap, but at the State Office of Parks and Recreation in Wailuku we were given a new idea.
Several “primitive cabins” apparently had been erected at the W…a park, and they could be rented for $14.00 per night. While normally booked months in advance, it happened that one was available the night after we were due to arrive. So we left the state office armed not only with camping papers, but with actual reservations at one of these cabins.
Now the trip was beginning to develop a loose form. We knew where we were going, and approximately where we would be staying. Before heading for Hana there were two tourist sights we had convinced ourselves we should take the time to see. The first of these was the Iao Valley Needle, located a few miles outside of Wailuku.
The Needle is to Maui what the Eiffel Tower, the Empire State Building, and the Space Needle are to their places: a tall, pointy thing good for photos and as a destination for tourist buses.
Set in one of those velvet-green valleys with steep jagged sides, the Needle is a volcanic formation. It’s about 100’ high, shaped like an inverted sugar cone, and is covered with more of that velvet-green stuff used all over Hawaii. Imagine a shorted version of the Eiffel Tower covered with moss and you will have a good idea of the Iao Valley Needle.
Of more interest to us was the stream which flowed down from the Needle, cascaded over rocks, and formed lots of good wading pools. I stripped down to my cutoffs, Derry took off her shoes, and while the tourist buses emptied their respective cargoes which, as if by a magnet, were drawn to the needle and then—polarity reversed—back to the bus, we took advantage of a tropical swimming hole.
This is one of the things I like about Hawaii. Unlike Europe, which is often the victim of its own magnificent castles, museums, and other must see tourist sights, Hawaii has very few places that are any more spectacular than any other. No matter how hard the tour operators may try to develop a known grouping of attractions that the tourist must be set down in front of for the requisite snapshot, Hawaii is simply beautiful everywhere.
The story of the Seven Sacred Pools illustrates this. The Seven Sacred Pools of Maui are famous. All the guidebooks talk about them. Any tourist worth his passport hopes for a chance to see them. But they don’t exist. Or rather no one really knows which seven, of the hundreds of thousands, are the Sacred Seven.
It’s a tourist industry trick. Here was the problem. The Hana area really is remote, and the road to Hana is so bad that stores sell T-shirts with the caption: “I survived the Hana Highway.” The scenery along the way is spectacular, but no more so at one end than at the other. Every quarter mile the road does a switchback at the end of a miniature valley (one of the regulation velvet-green ones), and nestled in every valley is a waterfall cascading over rocks and forming pools.
So how do you persuade the tourist to travel all the way to Hana to see the same pools and waterfalls he could se right at the beginning? Imagine France with hundreds of Eiffel Towers scattered around the countryside. Why should anyone bother to go to Paris?
So about thirty years ago the owners of the several hotels in the Hana area created the “Legend of the Seven Sacred Pools.” Only a few ingredients were needed to create the necessary legend: An ancient Hawaiian dynasty, pagan rituals, unsurpassed beauty buried deep in a tropical rain forest. Seven Sacred Pools. By God how could any tourist pass that up!
The creators of the legend were careful to place the Pools on the other side of Hana, giving the tourists at last a reason to go there. This hoax was perpetrated so well that most tourist guides still aren’t aware of it.
And the citizens of Hana do nothing to dispel it. When one of them is stopped on the road and asked where are the Seven Sacred Pools, the reply is usually: “Oh, you’re almost there. It’s just one more valley over.” Since there always is a beautiful waterfall in the next valley, and always at least seven pools (usually more) the ruse succeeds.
The only way we found out the truth was because of a notice stapled on the wall behind the cash register of a store in Hana, distributed by some truth-in-advertising citizens group. Apparently this group had been conducting some routine historical work pertaining to the Sacred Pools and had discovered that no mention of any legend, pools, or sacred pools existed before about 1950. After that point, the pools suddenly began appearing on maps (small scale, to be sure), were mentioned in guidebooks, and became the reason for driving all the way to Hana. The Hana merchants had somehow even persuaded the State of Hawaii to name a park (safely covering many acres) “Sacred Pools State Park.”
The researchers hit the ceiling when they realized what was going on. The state has now changed the name of the park. But except for that notice we saw (and we only saw it in one place) the myth continues. Even recent editions of guidebooks talk enthusiastically about the Sacred Pools of Hana.
One day, after reaching Hana, we tried to find the Sacred Pools, or at least the ones pretending to be sacred. We headed east out of Hana. The road, never very good, deteriorated to such an extent we stopped and asked a local fruit vendor how much farther the pools were. “Oh, not far at all!” he assured us. “Just down the road about a mile. You can’t miss them!” We smiled to ourselves, bought some bananas, turned around and drove back to Hana. So much for the Sacred Pools
After enjoying several of the regular pools back at the Iao Valley needle, Derry and I headed towards Haleakala Crater, our second stop on the road to Hana. We’d seen a volcanic crater the first time we were in Hawaii: Kilauea on the Big Island. It’s the one that’s always in the news. Kilauea was not a pleasant place. You’ve heard of desolate beauty. Kilauea is desolate ugly. It reeked of rotten eggs. Gaseous fumes were fermenting in the air. Everything was black. There was no redeeming social value to the place at all.
Haleakala Crater on Maui is very different. It’s bigger. Twenty five miles in diameter compared to Kilauea’s one. It’s relatively dormant so it doesn’t stink. Seen from the rim, the interior appears to be a great valley, sloping 4,000’ down. It looks like a giant was playing with jars of colored sand and got careless and spilled them all over the floor, creating little hills and valleys of varied colors.
The place is so unusual from a topographic standpoint (a sandy, mountainous desert 10,000 feet in the air, in the middle of a tropical island), that weather inside the crater goes berserk. While watching for thirty minutes we saw it cloud up, start to rain, change its mind and become totally clear, fog over completely, become clear again, start to rain, clear up, and then just not do anything for a few minutes, like a tiger weary of trying to find a way out of its cage.
Halfway on the road back down from the crater is the Kula Lodge, described by HH as a place that rents out Chalet-like lodgings, complete with fireplace. We’d made reservations the night before. Calling the cabins chalet-like was stretching it perhaps, but the fireplace was fun and at 6,000 feet elevation, surprisingly necessary.
But the best thing was the view. Poised half way up the turtle of Maui’s shell, we looked straight westward across the neck, and by looking north and south could see both coastlines: Kehei on the south, and Kahului (although only a port city) on the north. I t was odd to be within sight of sweltering Kehei with its sun-baked beaches, yet behaving to keep the fire well-stoked to ward off the cold. We slept well that night, conserving our energy for the terrible Hana Highway that lay ahead.
About as wide as a car is long, the Hana Highway twists its agonized way across thirty miles of seemingly vertical mountainsides. The velvety-green valleys are everywhere. The highway is cut into them as they plummet from the high ground of the volcanoes into the Pacific Ocean. The first thing we noticed was that there really was a waterfall, and pools, at the end of every twist in the road: about every 200 yards. I began to get dizzy, feeling like I was actually staying in the same place, being swung slowly around, and seeing the same beautiful waterfall on each rotation.
If even one of those waterfalls had had the good luck to have been located in, say, Nebraska, it would have enjoyed the status of a national park. Cities and roads would be built in its honor. Fortunes would be made in real estate. Professional people would hold their conventions nearby. But on the Hana Highway these waterfalls suffered from a complete lack of distinction. The competition was just too tough. An actor in New York City has as much chance of finding a job as one of these waterfalls has of being appreciated on the Hana Highway.
The problem which had given rise to the Legend of the Sacred Pools was very evident. Beauty had been strewn uniformly over everything. To the tourist, this is like anarchy. There is no order, no sense of priorities, no way to decide what to look at first, or what to miss if time is short.
If one car stopped to take a picture, other cards would quickly gather, assuming something especially photographic must be at hand. If no one had stopped, drivers would then assume that this was must another beautiful waterfall and not bother to slow down. To avoid other sightseers, I made a practice of only stopping at waterfalls not otherwise engaged, but it didn’t work. The mere act of stopping bestowed upon the place a status it would not otherwise have had. Cars would pile up. Cameras would come out. I wanted to yell: “Good heavens! Don’t stop her. The Seven Sacred Pools are just down the road!”
When we finally reached the Hana area (rainy, windswept Hana(, it was raining, and the wind was blowing . WE followed the signs to Waianapanapa Park, a secluded forested setting with picnic tables and grassy areas for camping, and began looking for a place to pitch our tent. This was a dreary process. No site looks good in the pouring rain.
The ground was so wet that the millions of red ants that had made prior reservations at the campground were almost floating away. We watched hopefully for awhile, to see if they would. But the Hana ant knows how to swim. Worse, I suspected that they were working up an appetite in doing so. Derry said “Baby doesn’t like these ants,” which was just the excuse I’d been looking for. We drove into the town of Hana in search of drier, and less hungry, surroundings.
There are only three places to stay in Hana, all of them recommended in HH. There’s “Heavenly Hana,” a Japanese garden-turned-hotel (no vacancy). There’s a dude ranch which rents horses to its guests. Derry didn’t think baby would enjoy riding the horses. So we ended up at the Hana Kai Apartments.
I;’m sold on the concept of renting apartments or condominiums even for one night, in place of the normal motel/hotel configuration. The economics of investment-tax-credit-interest-write-off condominium ownership these days seems to be producing lots of nice places to stay at low rates. AT the Hana Kai we had a studio apartment with loft, a deck overlooking a stunning coastline about fifty feet away, and a full kitchen for $45.00 per night. The spaghetti supper we made cost another $4.00 in groceries, breakfast the next morning ate up another $2.00, and the leftover spaghetti for lunch was free. That’s a full day’s worth of meals for two people for $6.00!
The two-building Hana Kai complex was perched on volcanic black-rock cliffs, and had received very professional landscaping. The pool, only one-hundredth the size of the Hyatt’s, had been carved into the volcanic cliff, was fed by a natural spring, and overflowed directly into the crashing surf. Palm trees, banana trees, and papaya trees added just the right touch to achieve a tropical paradise motif.
Best of all, the site was adjacent to one of those unique Hawaiian attractions: a beach made entirely of black sand. As you might expect, in trying to photograph the black sand the automatic aperture mechanism on my camera becomes obstinate. The pictures we had taken of a similar beach on the Big Island had been ruined because the camera kept trying to make the black sand white, or at least gray.
I talked this over with the automatic aperture mechanism.
“Now look, Auto,” I began. “This beach isn’t gray, it’s black.”
“Not when I get through with it, it isn’t!” said the camera proudly.
“You don’t’ understand,” I continued. “Black is beautiful. Haven’t you heard?”
“That’s not what you said after you developed that film we took of the ski hill in bright sunlight! As I recall, you were so made you wouldn’t clean my lens filter for a week!”
“Now wait a minutes. Ski hills are supposed to be white! When I picked up those photos at the camera store, the clerk asked me where I’d gotten such great pictures of a panther in a coal bin.”
“OK, OK,” said my camera. “How ‘bout we settle for gray? No one’s going to believe this beach is black!”
“How ‘bout I settle for a Kodak instamatic on my next trip!” I replied.
“Ha! Go right ahead. But how long do you think an instamatic would last in this salt air?”
“Oh, so you’re going to play durable, are you? Let’s see how you do at underwater photography!”
“Now, let’s not get hasty. Maybe I can live with black afterall. I mean, the lighting isn’t really important. Everyone knows it’s the composition that counts. Too bad you don’t know anything about composition!”
Photographing those black sand beaches was not easy. I became so frustrated that when later in the day we were driving up a hill overlooking Hana and we found ourselves in the middle of a herd of cows, I calmed down by photographing the cows.
Taking pictures of a cow is the equivalent of repeating a TM mantra: it achieves inner peace. A cow has no part of itself more attractive than any other part. There is nothing you can do with lighting that tmakes a cow more or less appealing. Taking a picture of a cow singly, or amongst other cows, is a decision of no consequence. A cow is neither improved nor worsened by being positioned against a particular background view. Best of all, a cow rarely moves when being photographed, but if it did move it would not matter A blurred cow is just as good as a clear cow. Perhaps better.
In view of the forgiving nature of the process I chose not to climb out of the car or even open the window. I was content to photograph these cows right through our bug-splattered windshield. Soon my harmony was restored. The camera and I were back on speaking terms. (We had few disagreements where cows were concerned.) I asked Derry if baby liked the cows.
“Baby likes the cows,” she assured me, “but questions whether we need so many pictures of them…”
We arrived back at Waianapanapa park that afternoon amidst news reports that a hurricane was approaching. We paid our $14 and set out to occupy our cabin. These cabins are simple affairs. Built on four short supporting-stilts to keep the insects out, they are about 20 x 20 feet square, with decks, bunk beds, a serviceable kitchen, and an adequate bathroom. There must have been about ten cabins total, although we could only see one other from our deck. There was no sign that any of the other cabins were occupied. The park groundskeeper closed up and went home at 6:00 PM. There were no tent campers at all. It was beginning to seem like a pretty lonely place. And a hurricane was approaching.
In front of our cabin the vegetation-covered volcanic rock sloped steeply down to bare black-lava cliffs, upon which the ocean pounded with a fury I have never seen anywhere else on earth (I am not including New York City subway riders during rush hour. ) Crowding in on the other three sides of the cabin was a dense forest of weird trees: the kind that would grab Dorothy as she was walking towards Oz.
The town of Hana is very isolated from the rest of Maui, but now we were isolated even from Hana. Soon night fell, and the wind began blowing. Gently at first, but it kept getting stronger. From our windows we could see the dim forms of palm trees down on the cliffs beginning to blow wildly, like in some kind of Hollywood disaster-film. But soon even these became invisible as the last of the twilight disappeared, and the rain pounded on the metal roof.
Then the animal noises began. “C-r-r-o-o-o-o-k !,”
“What was that!” Derry asked urgently.
“Just animal noises,” I explained.
“What kind of animal noises?” she persisted.
“Routine animal noises,” I answered, trying to feign boredom rather than reveal terror.
I entertained no delusions. Whatever had made the noise we had just heard would have instantly devoured the kind of chirping crickets we had grown accustomed to in Connecticut. This was a tropical jungle, after all.
“C-R-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-K ! !”
“You’re sure it’s just animals, not burglars or something?”
Derry assumed I would be knowledgeable on this subject.
“Are you kidding? What kind of burglars would attack during a hurricane!”
Derry pondered this, trying to decide if it was a reassuring statement. “Baby is concerned,” she finally concluded. The wind screeched and the rain roared against the roof. We shivered in our sleeping bags, but could only try to sleep.
The next day we found out that the hurricane had fizzled out before reaching the Big Island, and we’d just caught the fringes.
Just the fringes? With those palm trees bent double? We decided that any storm must appear fierce in the tropics because of the palm trees. People have been exposed to so many movies and news programs showing hurricanes in the tropics, as evidenced by palm trees blowing wildly, that the sight of a palm tree blowing in the rain creates a kind of Pavlovian assumption that this must be a hurricane.
I now realize that the minimum threshold of wind necessary to make a palm tree blow wildly is very low. But when you’re in a primitive cabin hidden away in a remote rain-forest, the minimum threshold of hurricane needed to produce fear is very low also. We pondered this as we set out the next morning to explore the lave cliffs.
The town of Hana is remote, rainy, and windswept, as you will recall. The Hana coast is usually described as “wild, rugged, and inaccessible.” Waianapanapa park sits on the edge of this coast.
“An ancient Hawaiian road, used by the king’s messengers for hundreds of years, runs along the coast from Waianapanapa park for seven miles to Hana,” explains the guidebook. By walking the fifty yards from our cabin through the weird trees down to the cliffs we came upon this road. It was a well-kept path pounded out of the lava. Considering its age it was in remarkable condition. Better condition than the Hana highway, for that mater.
But in another million years I think this ancient Hawaiian road will be eaten away by the waves. The waves on the Hana coast mean business. As the politicians say “They’ve got an agenda.” The agenda for these waves has one item on it: “Maui must be destroyed!”
But the agenda for the cliff is “The cliff must endure!”
We spent several hours watching and photographing the effect of these two agendas in action. The analogy with politics can be extended. A lot of noise and motion were evident, but very little happened.
Yet on Maui the waves will win. Haleakala hasn’t erupted and produced reinforcements for the cliffs for a long time. By comparison the cliffs on the Big Island can laugh at the waves. Every time a few inches have been lost to erosion, Kilauea erupts and extends the cliff out another 50 yards. I read somewhere that over the millions of years the Hawaiian islands have been entirely rebuilt and destroyed three different times.
Our experience at Hana will always retain a special flavor: velvet-green valleys and waterfalls. Rain and windswept hillsides. Strange creatures communicating in the night. Howling winds. Palm trees blowing wildly. Trees and plants from a different world. Swimming ants. Isolated cottages. But the over-riding memory will always be: waves crashing against cliffs.
Return to Civilization
It’s only a four hour drive from Hana to the Hyatt Regency in Lahaina, but the two places exist in separate universes. We had only one more day in Hawaii, and we wanted to spend it relaxing back in the sun at Lahaina.
I slept almost the whole way there, but Derry woke me up when she saw the 10,000 windsurfers. We had just entered the city limits of Paia, a few miles east of Wailuku, and we did not know it at the time but Paia is considered the world capital of windsurfing. As we looked down at the sea from the Hana highway, we saw thousands of windsurfers all within a body of water no more than a 1/2 mile square. They were going very fast, perhaps twenty or thirty mils and hour. And they were going in all directions. Every point on the compass was represented. They would surf on the waves (like a regular surfboard). They would speed up ahead of the waves. They would go parallel to the waves. And when they got in too close to shore they would turn and go against the waves! I remembered thinking the waves off the beach at the Hyatt were heavy surf, and I felt chastened.
Flying up wind against the waves these windsurfers would rise up and shoot off the breaking crests, flinging themselves totally out of the water, like a ski jumper going off a mogul. Sometimes they would land safely and keep going. More often they would turn completely upside down while still in the air, crashing back into the water sail first.
I felt like I was watching some instinctive ritual in the insect kingdom. Worker bees fighting off an invasion of moths, or something. It was hard to believe that all that color and frenzy could be the result of normal human beings pursuing a simple leisure activity.
This sport seemed to have no connection with what I now look back on as my sedentary experience on a similar contraption. I’d been wading in the kiddy pool. These guys were diving off cliffs at Acapulco. I’d thought that once I had learned to stand up on the board the hard part was over. Well, I consoled myself, I could always have gone back for the third lesson.
““Nothing here that, with a little practice, I couldn’t do!” I said to Derry.
“Yes, Dear,” she said.
A little ways further down the road we came upon the coconut woman. Fresh fruit, her sign said, but that was being modest. She had papayas, breadfruit, passion fruit, quavas, coconuts, and other things I couldn’t recognize. Some of it hadn’t even been picked yet—it was still growing on the trees behind her stand. An old Volkswagen microbus was parked in the back, with a garden growing out of six inches of sod on its roof.
The coconut woman was the kind of character that would have fit well into a good Agatha Christie Novel: indeterminate age, a sly smile, weathered skin. (“A dozen coconuts, madam, and could you please explain why you have six inches of sod on the roof of that vehicle?” asked Hercule Poirot innocently as he leafed through his wad of ten-franc notes.”
As we were the only customers the woman talked to us for awhile. She had lived on Maui all her life, she said, and had no desire to go anywhere else. When New Yorkers say something like that it makes me sick to my stomach, but when a Hawaiian makes the same statement I find it utterly sensible.
The best thing about the coconut woman was that she solved the mystery of the coconuts for us. Everyone on the mainland knows what a coconut looks like: about the size of a large softball, quite round and hard, and covered with that shaggy brown stuff. Everyone in Hawaii can recognize coconuts too: shaped like an elongated apple, green, smooth, and about the size of a basketball. They smooth, green, basketball-size things were everywhere…yet they bore no resemblance to what I think of as a coconut. I explained this problem to the coconut woman, suspecting she would have an opinion.
Grinning mischievously, she picked up one of the smooth, green things, took hold of her machete with the other hand, and motioned me to follow her to the back of the shed. A flat sump had been set there, and upon this the coconut lady proceeded to place the large green Hawaiian coconut.
She raised the machete high over her head and brought it down hard. Slash! The top of the green thing was suddenly lying on the ground.
“Now look!” she showed us, pleased with her work.
Inside the weird green basketball was—guess what—a papaya! No, just kidding. Inside was the familiar brown object we mainlanders recognize as coconuts. They’d been hiding in there all along.
Next she re-positioned the nut—it’s secrets now laid bare—vertically on the stump, and thrust the point of her knife sharply into the top of the brown part, creating a small opening. Pulling a straw form among her supplies, she inserted it into the hole, and handed the thing to me. I thought of using the “No, I don’t want to hold the coconut” hand signal. A shame to let it go to waste after so much practice. But my curiosity prevailed. “Drink!” she commanded. I took hold of the object carefully and tasted its contents. Delicious! A virgin pina colada—self-contained. I was delighted.
I was even more delighted to have joined the ranks of those who have learned the secrets of the coconut.
We arrived back at Lahaina as the sun was going down. Lahaina is our favorite place on Maui. I was especially eager to go their originally because most of Michener’s book “Hawaii” takes place in Lahaina. The town has been well-restored to its early 19th century whaling days motif. In this it reminds me a bit of Georgetown, Colorado. (Lot’s of whales caught in Georgetown I understand.)
The Pioneer Inn in Lahaina deserves mention. A late-19th century two-story hotel, the Pioneer Inn vies with the Banyan Tree for being the primary attraction of Lahaina.
If located in Dallas or Cleveland, a popular gathering placed called the Banyan Tree would be a stylish bar or restaurant, or maybe even a disco. In Lahaina the Banyan Tree is a tree.
The Banyan Tree, mentioned in all the tourist brochures, is thought to be the largest Banyan tree in existence anywhere. It’s claim to top billing in Lahaina is furthered by its being located directly in the middle of town, on the main waterfront avenue. Many directions in Lahaina are based on the tree. “Lahaina Divers, Inc.,” located just two convenient blocks west of the Banyan Tree,” reads a particular brochure. “The Apparels of Pauline (a clothing boutique, is located kitty-corner to the Banyan Tree,” reads another.
Derry and I spent quite a bit of time in Lahaina and never could find the Banyan Tree. We concluded that if Lahaina’s is the world’s largest, the others must be pretty small.
The Pioneer Inn, where we spent our last night, was easier to find. It’s whaling day’s motif (authentic, not a decorator’s cute idea) is a healthy contrast to the Kaanapali area hi-rise hotels just a few miles away. rooms rent for $22 per night, and look onto a center courtyard filled with tiki oil-lamps, palm trees, and other tropical accouterments.
A card in the room spells out the Pioneer Inn’s rules, left over from the year 1900.
“No women allow in roomes.
No sleeping in roomes after 1:00, eksept on Sunday.
Drinking not allow in roomes.
If you drunk, you gonna leave.
Etc. Must have been a hard life for those whalers..
Michener’s book describes in great detail a whaling vessel, “The Carthaginian,” owned by one of the leading characters, Rafer Hoxworth. Although presumably a work of fiction, when we arrived in Lahaina there was the Carthaginian, tied up at the wharf!
It turns out there really was a whaling vessel by that name, which hit a reef and sank just offshore. The new Carthaginian is a reproduction made from a steel vessel brought in from Denmark. The rigging and deck layout are authentic, but a whaling museum occupies everything below decks. For $2.00 we went in and saw a movie about whale, and especially about whales having baby whales. Derry took notes.
We spent our last day in Hawaii at a beach. A secluded beach. The kind one sees pictures of in honeymoon brochures. This beach had eluded us our entire trip. We’d found beaches for windsurfing. We’d found black sand beaches. We’d found violent coastlines, and sheltered harbors. We’d found beaches with lots of people. Here at last was just a beach. Sand and water. No other pretensions. Derry and I had a hard time figuring out why we hadn’t spent our whole week right here on this beach.
But I remembered something one of Derry’s co-workers had said to her just before we were leaving for Hawaii on our previous trip. “You’re flying 5,000 miles just to lie on a beach?
And that was the point. If all you want to do is bake in the sun you might as well go to Florida. The unique attraction of Hawaii is in the things that lie beyond the beaches. The ten million waterfalls. The coconut woman. The pounding surf with no one else to see it but yourselves. The freshwater pools—sacred or otherwise—set amidst green lava-formed valleys. The poi and mahi mahi available as staples at every meal. The volcanic craters so other-worldly that NASA sends their astronauts their to train for the moon. The feel of the trade winds. The water so clear you can see the bottom forty feet down. The sunsets.
These things are indeed worth flying 5,000 miles to enjoy. The amount of time we’d allocated for lying on the deserted sand beach—one day—was just right.
The next morning we boarded another twin Cessna and flew back to Honolulu airport, changed planes and took off for Seattle. After one week of tropical paradise, we were now going to spend two days unwinding in the Pacific Northwest.
After arriving at Sea-Tac airport late the night before, we set off at noon for Mt. Rainier National Park, but the nearer we got, the more concerned we became with where we would spend the night.
Being the first week in October, all the motels we passed were closed. And they were not increasing in numbers. The more beautiful and isolated the scenery became, the more concerned we began to feel.
Our one hope lay in a small item on the highway map. Very near to what must have been the summit of Rainier, and accessible only by the most unimportant of roads, was something called “Paradise Inn.” Judging by the key to the map, Paradise Inn was a town, yet this seemed doubtful. More likely in our minds was that Paradise Inn was an Inn. If so, it should have rooms. If it had rooms, it might have vacancy. And if it was an important enough place to look like a town on a map, it might not be closed even this late in the season.
With this hope in mind we continued deeper and deeper into the park, and higher and higher up the mountain. As we did so, the weather improved. No longer overcast, we began to catch glimpses of Rainier itself: a towering wall of rock and glacier. It certainly deserved it’s own park.
Autumn had arrived. Even I what should have been a forest of only evergreens this was apparent. In open areas, brush and grass were casting aside their summer greenery and turning gold and rust as no doubt their more fashionable cousins back east were already doing. The air was clear and bracing. The afternoon sun was now shining warmly, but we could see our breath whenever we stepped out of the car. Had we really been on a tropical island less than 24 hours ago? The mind recoils at the disparity of experience jet travel makes possible.
We arrived at Paradise Inn and it was an Inn, as well as a ranger station and visitors bureau. And it did have vacancy—barely. The man behind me got the last room. But the girl at the desk apologized. The room we were being given, while inexpensive ($25.00) was “small.” I was so relived to have found a room that I tried to reassure her that size was not important.
I reassured too soon. This room was so small that although we could walk straight ahead through the doorway, we had to turn sideways while in the room itself.
And the room was cold. We brought in our down mummy bags from the car to keep us warm. a good thing they were mummy bags. Regular sleeping bags wouldn’t have fit. To an extent, one failing offset the other. I lit my candle lantern and the room was immediately too warm from the heat given off by the flame. I blew it out and before I’d time to draw another breath, the room was freezing again. This was a small room.
I tried to calculate what we must be paying on a dollar per square foot rate, but couldn’t find a square foot to begin my calculations with. If Derry had been a few months further along in her pregnancy, we’d have needed an annex.
We considered sleeping in the car instead, so we could stretch out.
But in truth we didn’t mind at all. A cozy mountain lodge fit our mood.
Once outside again, we set off up the path towards the mountain. The map had not lied. Paradise Inn is very close to Mt. Rainier. It rests on one of its flanks, right at treeline. Fifty yards up the path and we were above the trees, with nothing between us and the mountain peak. We were close enough to need my wide-angle lens to capture all of it.
But we were here to relax, not climb mountains. WE stayed above the lodge for a few minutes, then headed back down to get ready for dinner.
Sitting in the dining room, it was clear what the architect had done with all the space saved from the design of our room. It had been used to augment the already overly-vast acreage of the room we were now sitting in. I began to have egalitarian leanings, thinking of all the space that could be added to each room if this monument could be reduced to more normal proportions. But, as with the Catholics in poor countries content to donate their meager wealth to the church for the building of cathedrals, perhaps each room’s pitiful existence was somehow enriched by its knowledge that it shared the same building with a more majestic construction.
When the food arrived we realized that he bedrooms were not the only parts of the Inn called on to make sacrifices. It was all too apparent that considerable square footage had also been saved in the kitchen by not having to set aside any space for cookbooks.
I woke at 6:00 the next morning and went back up the mountain path to photograph Rainier in the morning light. I seem to have at last reached the point in photography where I seldom make obvious technical mistakes. Most of my pictures come back with approximately the correct lighting. Usually in focus, etc. Now I’m concentrating more on what artistic people would call the “artistic quality,” the element that makes a picture in National Geographic look so good.
I think I’ve learned one of the secrets of that already. Instead of taking one picture, you take five or ten. Chances are one of them will have that special quality.
I learned another secret on this Hawaii trip: don’t photograph anything if it can’t be done in early morning or late afternoon light. A picture taken at those times of day will be a stunning photograph, regardless of any skill on the photographer’s part. Without that lighting, the final result will produce a yawn.
As I walked back down the path after expending an entire roll of film on Mt. Rainier in the early morning sunlight I came across a deer. I checked my camera. Two shots left. But the deer was in the shade. Worse, a deer should be photographed with a telephoto lens, which requires even more light than usual. I stayed in the shadows, watching the deer, waiting for the deer to move into the sunlight.
This is the kind of thing they never teach you in photography books: how to move the deer into the sunlight. How would the professional from National Geographic do it, I wondered. Maybe send his assistants out with lassos, capture the deer, drag it into the sunlight, and then shoot lots of pictures of the terrified animal trying to escape.
This option didn’t seem open to me. I thought of waiting the animal out. Just sitting there, for an hour if necessary, knowing the deer would either have to eventually move into the sunlight, or the sunlight would move to the deer as the day progressed. But we had a plane to catch so this was not practical either.
Standing there, waiting for the deer to move, I began to feel that I’d spent my whole vacation wrestling with the effects of lighting on the thing I was trying to photograph. It was time to strike back. I seized my camera. Set the zoom on maximum telephoto. Aimed, Focused. Click. Click.
There, I had just photographed a deer. To hell with lighting and composition. What is art but individual creativity? In those two seconds I fancied that I’d established a trend in modern photography. It will be characterized with expressions like “unusual muted lighting,” “refreshingly direct composition” (As in “Hard-to-see-deer-in-middle-of-picture,”) for which I will no doubt become famous.
Grant Wood had his farmer with the pitchfork. I’ll be identified with the vagueness of the muted deer. The critics will have a heyday. “Voorhees’ masterpiece, Muted Deer, has come to characterize man’s inability to clearly perceive his environment, or even his own immediate circumstances, in an increasingly complex society. The use of the deer in a deceptively natural setting provides just the bitter irony we need to realize that his message applies to more than our present age. Man’s grappling with circumstances beyond his control—or even perception—is a timeless phenomenon. As one contemplates Muted Deer one suddenly realizes that even a deeper message is being conveyed. What at first appears to be a modest technical error—the failure of the photographer to capture the deer’s direct gaze—can on closer inspection be seen to be deliberate. Voorhees is telling us equally that the environment has a difficult time perceiving man, as well. The implications are profound…”
Three hours later our DC-8 climbed away from Sea-Tac airport en route to Philadelphia. When we came to reclaim Duffy, he was so excited he ran in high speed circles on the lawn for twenty minutes. Some parts of our environment, at least, have no difficulty being perceived, or appreciated. We were glad to be home.