Tuesday, February 17, 2009

To Hawaii and Beyond...

I came back from Hawaii with a damp towel, sunburned feet, a suitcase full of various kinds of macadamia nuts for assorted people back home, some good memories, and a little enlightenment.

There are some standouts as I look back on my week in paradise:

THE PLANE - The plane flight is long. There is no doubt about that. And there are, surprisingly, A LOT of people who take their very, very young children on this long plane trip to Hawaii. My enjoyment of children has increased dramatically since spending more time with my nieces and nephews. However, children screaming in a cramped space for a long time is something I have not yet grown to tolerate very well. It makes me a bit grouchy. Luckily, there are many technological gadgets that now allow young children to be entertained for extended amounts of time. Let's hear it for the portable DVD player! Nevermind that I spent a good chunk of the trip, myself, watching Finding Nemo with no sound from the across the aisle. Guess they work for adults, too.

On the whole, though, the flight was fine. I took considerable enjoyment in watching people deal with carry-on luggage. Watching adults try to fit carry-on luggage into overhead bins is not unlike watching a toddler trying to find the right shaped hole to put his square block through. It makes me wonder if these people have trouble with their spacial acuity in other situations.

I was also pleasantly surprised to find that Hawaiian Airlines actually still serves meals on their flights. This was especially nice on the way out since I neglected to purchase anything besides trail mix to feed myself. The food was not great, but after three hours on an airplane with nothing else to eat, a soggy croissant with turkey and mayonnaise was like manna from heaven. I had to hold myself back from channeling Oliver Twist and asking the purple flowered steward for some more. Those stewards are pretty tough, though.

When I finally escaped the plane, I discovered that my friend Shad had arranged to have a lei waiting for me. Lovely man, Shad. It was a beautiful combination of purple and white flowers that made me feel like, at any second, I might see a man in a white suit jump out and croon, “Welcome to Fantasy Island!” Didn't happen though. No midgets either. Bummer.

THE CAR - When I arrived at the Budget rental car counter in Maui, I found out that there were no cars of the type I had reserved available. There were, in fact, no rental cars available on the entire island for those without reservation - a little justification for my sometimes annoyingly paranoid pre-planning instincts.

Because fate is kind, instead of the Pontiac I had budgeted for I was issued a red mustang convertible for the couple days I was to be on my own.

I've never driven a convertible. I usually don't even like to drive with the windows down....too many hair issues. But I had an insanely good time with this silly car.

First of all, I must say that, though I like to drive fast, Maui is not the place to get a muscle car in the hopes of really opening it up and zooming along at top speed. I'd say the average speed I ended up driving my Mustang was about 25 mph. This speed restriction, however, did not diminish my enjoyment of this fine car, because, while I was driving quite slow, I was also driving on the Hana Highway.

Now, if you've never been to Maui, you probably have no reason to know about the Hana Highway. I didn't. Not until I started planning my trip did I hear about this “really curvy” road between Kahului and Hana. To describe it best, I will say only this - I like to drive fast, I was driving a Mustang convertible, and I drove between 15 and 25 mph on this road. It's not that I didn't want to drive faster, it's just that I couldn't. The road has a tight hairpin turn every quarter mile or so, and when there isn't a turn, there is a section of one lane road on which you usually have to play chicken with another tourist who is not paying attention to the road signs or the width of their own rented mustang. I think that because of my 3 days on the west side of Maui that I might actually be ready to try my hand at qualifing for the Grand Prix of Monaco. It was fantastic. It did, however, make it impossible for me to pretend that I was not a tourist. I earned my fair share of scowls from the Hana locals. I will probably never actually own a red convertible, but, for the trip, it was splendid.

THE SUN - The day before I was to leave for Maui, I looked at the weather forecast.

Rain all week, it said.

Crap, I said.

So when I stepped off the airplane and saw dark clouds in the sky, I was not surprised.

And when I was driving to Kipahulu to find my host for the week and it started raining, I was also not surprised.

And I am, after all, used to the rain. I must step in here and say that although it did rain, the rain in Hawaii is not like the rain in Washington. Perhaps this is something that should have been obvious to me. However, I found I quite enjoyed hiking in the rain in Hawaii. It was warm enough that a short rain shower and a little cloud cover were enjoyable and refreshing, not bone chilling and depressing. So, essentially, I had no problem with the rain.

I did, however, come to Hawaii, not for the warm rain, but for the sun. So on my third day on Maui, I drove to Kihei on the south side...and I found the sun. For the rest of the trip, while it continued to rain in Hana, it was sunny and warm and beautiful in Kihei. Thus, the sunburned feet. I now have a heightened Vitamin D level, a few more carcinogenic cells, and a nice base tan (for a pale girl). Right on.

THE RISING AND SETTING OF THE SUN - There is a reason that many postcards sent from Hawaii have sunsets on them. They are stunning.

On Tuesday, after soaking in the sun all day, I then watched it set. I watched the colors change as it fell lower and lower in the sky. And I watched it sink below the horizon and disappear into the ocean.

It's possible that there might have been 3,000 honeymooning couples watching this with me, but I tried not to notice them.

Instead I watched the humpback whales breaching in the distance and worked on writing a little poetry.

What could be better? Maybe watching the sun rise the next morning from the top of Haleakala?

It's possible.

Although it necessitated rising at 4:30 am to get up there, the sunrise, accompanied by the traditional chant of a local Hawaiian NPS interpreter, was spectacular. I'm sure many people feel this way, but it was like being on top of the world and watching the sun come up to meet me. I think, however, that the 3,000 happy couples from the night before had the same idea since they were also at the top of Haleakala awaiting the sun. That's ok, though. There was enough for everyone.

WHALE WATCHING - I have to admit that after spending time in Maui, I now think whales are the coolest creatures on this planet.

And I didn't even see a whole one.

I only saw part of one.

Actually I saw part of about 20, but, on the whole, my whale watching experience was THE highlight of this trip.

Not only did it offer the chance to see some of the most fascinating and strangely beautiful creatures on the planet, but it was also a chance to go really fast on a boat.

Little things make me happy.

SHAVE ICE - Passion fruit flavored. Yummy. Hmmm....another little thing.

LESSONS LEARNED - There were a number of things I didn't get to do in Hawaii - snorkeling, more whale watching, luau with a fire dancer (how did I miss that!?!?) And there were a couple things I would have changed about the trip, but, in the end, I would...and probably will...go back to Hawaii again.

I thought it would be a great escape from reality for awhile to go to Maui. I must admit, though, that while it was an escape...and a great one at that....it was a wake up call that, no matter where we go, we carry our reality with us. We can't escape our lives. What we get out of life is always colored by the experiences and expectations we carry with us. The most we can do is try to get past what is holding us back and live in the moment...and let those moments color our experiences and expectations of the future.

Oh...and drive a mustang a little more often.