Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Maui: the trip!

(picture from

The Getty Center was evacuated today because of a brush fire in the Sepulveda Pass so I thought I would use the surprise afternoon off to write about my recent vacation.

Eric and I spent the last week of June on Maui with some friends and had a wonderful time. We stayed at the Fairmont Kea Lani in Wailea and were upgraded to ocean front suites so we had amazing views from our balconies. Yes, we got leied at the hotel -- the girls got orchid leis and the boys got kukui nut leis. The four-year old with us remembered that Eric and I had worn kukui nut leis at our wedding so he said he was going to save his lei and wear it when he gets married. So sweet! The hotel is beautiful and the people who work there are great. The pool area is nice, if you are into that. I don't understand the point in sitting and staring at a swimming pool when you are in Hawaii but a lot of people seem to like that. I probably wouldn't choose to stay in Wailea again, though, because it's a little too "resorty" for me. Other than the ocean, there was no way to know I wasn't still in Los Angeles. There's a golf course and swimming pools and a shopping center full of designers chain stores, and restaurants such as Ruth's Chris Steakhouse and Tommy Bahama's. It really could have been almost anywhere and I wish it felt a little more like we were on Maui. There wasn't even anywhere in Wailea to get local food. Not even a plate lunch place. But if you want to go to Maui and still feel like you are in Los Angeles, I recommend Wailea.

But seriously, the hotel and resort were beautiful and relaxing so I'm not complaining. And you don't have to go far to feel like you are in Hawaii. We made a couple of five-minute drives to better snorkeling spots and had pretty good luck spotting fish and turtles. One day we went to "turtle beach" in Makena and swam around for ages before finally swimming out and crashing a tour group. The turtles are really hard to find on your own because they sit on the bottom like rocks. But the tour guides know how to find them. So we swam out to where the kayaks were sitting and, sure enough, turtles! So, once you find the turtles sitting on the bottom, you just have to wait a few minutes and one will come up for air and hang out with you for a while. So cool!

One day we drove up to the summit of Haleakala, which was freezing! I finally convinced the group that a bathing suit and flip-flops would not cut it up there. So we went up with the warmest clothes we had but our lightweight jackets were not enough for more than a few minutes outside the car. The crater is pretty amazing.

After our visit to the summit, I convinced the group to go to Zippy's, in Kahului, which I tried to explain is like the Hawaiian version of McDonald's, with local fast food. They are famous for their chili. I got the chili bento box, with chili, rice, macaroni salad, fried chicken, and spam. I swear to you, that's what was in it! And I ate all of it! I love that place! Needless to say, there is no Zippy's in Wailea.

What? No rice?

On Sunday, Eric and I went to a luau in Lahaina, while our friends went to an expensive Italian place in Wailea, because you just HAVE to have Italian food while you are on Maui, right? Anyway, I had been trying to convince everyone to go to the Old Lahaina Luau as a group activity but our friends were balking and then it was completely booked, because it is supposed to be the best luau in Hawaii (and therefore, presumably, the world). A traditional luau is a large meal with family and friends to celebrate a special occasion so, by definition, as a tourist, you are not going to be attending a real luau. But apparently The Old Lahaina Luau is as authentic as you can get for a fake luau, if that makes sense. If I go back to Maui, I will be going to that luau.

(Check out Other Eric's picture on his blog. It looks like a brochure picture!)

Instead, we went to the Feast at Lele, which is run by the same people but is a different experience. Instead of a buffet and group tables, it is more like a restaurant, with table service at tables for two. It is also pan-Polynesian, instead of focusing on Hawaiian food and dance. We had an impressive five-course meal. The food was nicely presented and there were at least fifteen different dishes to taste. Unfortunately we disliked almost all of it. The show was excellent, however, with dancing from Hawaii, New Zealand, Tahiti, and Samoa (and Tonga? -- there were five but I forget what the other one was). The Tahitian dancing is amazing but I would have been happy with an entire show of good Hawaiian dance. You don't get to see good hula very often. Most people think they've seen hula but they've probably not seen good hula. So, if you absolutely refuse to eat at a buffet, go to the Feast at Lele for the show. If you can handle a buffet, try the Old Lahaina Luau. That's what I'm doing next time.

The most incredible part of our trip was the Road to Hana! Yes, we did it! And what do you get at the end of the Road to Hana? A T-shirt that says, "I survived the Road to Hana"! It really is an accomplishment and I'm glad we did it. Eric and I did it alone because we didn't think a four-year-old would enjoy the long car ride. So we started at 8:00 in the morning on a Monday and it was raining most of the way there. It's only fifty miles but it is so winding and narrow that it takes hours to drive. The fun part is that there are over fifty one-lane bridges so you have to check to see if someone is coming the other way before you start across. It really wasn't as bad as I thought it would be because you can see to the other side of the bridge and we were going with the flow of traffic in the morning. We would have to gotten to Hana in an hour and a half if it weren't for two fifteen-minute closures for road work. During one of those stops I had to crawl into the back seat and pee into a water bottle. Eric was totally scandalized but the story didn't seem to faze anyone else at dinner that night.

Anyway, we didn't stop along the way because it was raining and we thought we could stop on the way back. We got to Hana around 10:00 and as it was too early for lunch, we continued on to Oheo Gulch, which I thought was just a few more minutes past Hana but turned out to be the worst part of the road and took almost another hour. This part of the road has really long sections of one-lane road with blind corners so I don't know how traffic is supposed to go both ways. In the morning most of the traffic was going clockwise, with us, so it wasn't a big deal. But I couldn't figure out how I was supposed to go back the other way in the early afternoon, heading into traffic that would still coming from Hana. I wasn't looking forward to that. So instead of going back, we kept going clockwise all the way around the back side of Haleakala on the Piilani Highway.

But first we hiked in Oheo Gulch, which is part of Haleakala National Park. We went on a four-mile hike up to a fifty-foot waterfall. The waterfall was OK but the walk through the bamboo forest was amazing! By the time we got down, Eric was about to kill me because I had told him to just wear flip-flops and his feet were killing him. We really should have had shoes for that hike but I just remembered growing up in Hawaii and not even owning shoes; we wore flip-flops (or slippers, as they are known in Hawaii) for everything. Growing up I would get one pair of shoes to wear to church on Easter Sunday. If you didn't like flip-flops, you were free to go barefoot. Suck it up!

So, anyway, Eric would have kicked my ass if his feet hadn't been hurting so badly. But he did agree to walk the quarter mile to the pools, which the tourist literature calls the Seven Sacred Pools even though they are not sacred and there are not seven of them. They are beautiful, however, and I went swimming in one of them. After that refreshing dip, we had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (you can't get food there so bring your own) and I decided to just go for it and drive back the hard way.

The drive west of Oheo Gulch on the Piilani Highway is one of the most amazing things I've ever done. It was scary but worth it. The Hana Highway is like Autopia at Disneyland compared to the back road of the Piilani Highway. First of all, it was completely closed for years after an earthquake in 2006. but it just reopened last October. Famously, people are warned that they will void their rental car agreements if they take this road. I think the worry is that you could get stuck in one of the unpaved sections. Fortunately, that side of Haleakala was completely dry, even though it rained during our entire drive on the other side. So there was no mud to get stuck in and the road hadn't been washed away, which happens sometimes in the rainy season. This road is crazy! It is entirely one lane and it is just randomly paved. Seriously, you'll be driving along in dirt and then there will just be half a mile of beautiful new asphalt for absolutely no reason and then dirt road again. Most of it, though was really old asphalt that seemed to be made up almost entirely of potholes. It was a bumpy ride. The wonderful thing about it is that it is almost completely deserted. We only met three or four cars on the two-hour journey. The most exciting parts were the one-lane dirt sections hanging on the edge of a cliff with no guardrail and no way to see if another car was coming around the corner! Fortunately, like I said, there almost never is. I tried honking my horn to let people know I was coming around the corner but I'm so unaccustomed to using the horn that I would just tap on it and it wouldn't really make any noise. Eric told me I was being too polite. Just watch out for the local drivers. They drive relatively fast (five miles per hour seems fast on this road) and they will expect you to get out of their way, which I was happy to do.

The scenery was breathtaking. You really feel like you are in the middle of nowhere. And you drive across a huge old lava flow. That drive was the highlight of the trip. I don't want to tell too many people to do it because the best part about it was the lack of tourists. But since you are all such close friends, I think I can tell you that you should do this drive if you go to Maui. You'll love it. As long as you are brave. And there hasn't been a recent storm. And you are not worried about your rental contract or your insurance. And you are a good driver. And you are patient. And you remembered to bring sandwiches. Other than that, there's nothing to worry about.

And that's what I did on my summer vacation! Aloha!


Sewing Siren said...

Wow. Hawaii looks even better than Disneyland!

mumblesalot (Laura A) said...

That road looks like fun. What a view.

Maui restaurants said...

We just got back from a family vacation to Hawaii and our group consensus on the favourite activity was hands down the Old Lahaina Luau on the island of Maui. The entire evening was perfect down to the umbrella in my Mai Tai, which they began serving while we waited to enter the grounds. We were escorted to our table by a Hawaiian native dressed in traditional attire, we heard the Old Lahaina Luau was authentic, but every ounce of our evening was infused Hawaiian culture. After we located our seats, we were encouraged to walk the grounds where we could view a number of traditional items being handcrafted, ultimately making our way to the waters edge where we experienced our most memorable red sunset on Maui. During our stay we enjoyed many Maui restaurants, but I have to say that the incredible variety of Hawaiian cuisine served at the Old Lahaina Luau topped any other meal on our vacation. Returning to our table with a plate overflowing of indigenous fish, pork and uniquely prepared veggies, we settled in to enjoy a show that far surpassed our expectations.