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Mongoosian Standoff (Myna vs. Mongoose)

I think I slept like a big fat log. I always set my alarm clock when I am away or with others because I like to sleep in and I don’t want to impede the progress of the day by waking up at noon. In my youth, I used to pride myself on how late I could sleep, but it rarely ever happens anymore. Nevertheless, I am still very aware that my early is not everyone else’s early. This different interpretation of the word “early” was something I discovered the hard way a few times with my sister. When you are used to waking up at 5:00 am I can understand why 7:00 am is early for her. However, when you wake up at between 10:00 am and 11:00 am when given the opportunity, 9:00 am is early. I have since learned to ask her exactly what time is her “early,” if we have plans. Plus, even I can't stay in bed late with a view like this.

It was officially our first full day in Maui. I had four things that were on the list of places to see, and they were all parks. Although it is true that I am a friend of the parks, the selected places were also on all of the tourist’s lists of things to see. Today I wanted to scout out one of the parks that also happens to be a beach. Makena State Park is on the southern end of the island. The beach at Makena is said to be one of the island’s best (I’m shaking my head over the travesty of never actually going back). I wasn’t prepared for an actual beach day, but I thought we could see it and determine if it was worth making plans for leisure later.

The narrow dirt parking lot was fairly large and full. Around the perimeter were patches of trees and grassy hills. At the end was a food truck specializing in tacos. When we were walking, it was hard to tell exactly what to expect since we were in this partly secluded area. There was an opening in the trees near the food truck that we followed to the path to the beach. The wooded areas next to pathway were not made of trees standing straight. These trees were large thistles and growing every which way and into and across each other in diagonal patterns. As we get to the end, the sky opens up above and the ocean and sand are in full view. Right in the middle of our line of sight sat this large banana yellow lifeguard tower with large red lettering. The tower had a familiar look. You could have mistaken it for an aerial tramway that grew spider legs and decided to make its home on the beach.

Photo credit: Thomas Huggins

The beach itself had a smattering of beach goers. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that it was crowded, but the stretch of beach was so expansive, people could be seen in the distance in either direction. There were a few people in the water, but most were sunbathing. (Fair warning for any considering visiting Hawaii: there are stunning beaches but you must be a responsible swimmer and know your limitations as well as check the lifeguard station signs.) At this point, I decided that this had high potential for the selected “beach” for beach time. We turn around and head back to the parking lot. Swaths of colors blur past. Bright red feathers of the Cardinals were impossible to miss as they flew by or fluttered about. This must be their home. It was too many of them for it not to be. Thomas grabs a few remarkable shots of them. When we get close to the car, we hear this screeching noise and a lot of bird chatter. Something was clearly going down in the animal kingdom. On the ground stood a few birds (Myna-they look like the reverse of our beloved Oriole) that were aggressively approaching what appears to be a mongoose. At first I thought it was a squirrel but his tail was straight and he had red eyes. I remember reading Rikki-Tikki-Tavi and my understanding of the defensive capabilities of a mongoose, albeit from a children’s book, was that the species was defiant and a sure winner in a standoff against enemies such as deadly snakes. I wasn’t sure about this particular case. Neither the birds or the mongoose gave the appearance of giving in but I think ultimately, the mongoose was outnumbered.

The official plan for the day was to go to Iao Valley State Park. The big deal besides all its general Hawaiian landscape splendor and glory is what is called Kuka’emoku (Iao Needle), which is a narrow rock formation, taller than the Eiffel Tower, separated from the rest of the rising mountains. Thomas gets the directions ready and we head on our way from the Makena. For a while we are on the highway and there isn’t anything that distinctly says this is “Hawaii” besides the treasure of a beach that we just left. Ok, so there were palm trees and few other tells. It wasn’t until we were getting closer to Iao that we both looked in wonder and said to each other, much like Alaska, “Now this is the Hawaii I was thinking about.” The road we had taken has gotten smaller and gradually roofed by treetops. The car was climbing in a winding elevation and everything was a cover of leafy green.

At one particular bend of the road, our mouths opened when we saw this colossal banyan tree with tentacle roots hanging down on the left of the road. There was conveniently a large parking area across from the tree that we pulled into. As we park, I noticed a pickup truck that must have parked right before we got to the bend. Out walked a man and three boys of a honey complexion with swim trunks and matching mohawks with a strip of burnt orange down the middle. The range of ages, including the man I am presuming was the father, was about 5 to 35. The man had somehow cloned himself into three younger adorable versions of his former self. They robbed the attention away from the tree. I tried to take a picture inconspicuously but they were too fast; I only managed to capture an image as they walked away. Even from the back, you can still see how they could have been a set of Hawaiian (Russian) nesting dolls. Stack one inside the other, inside the other and so on.

After I snuck the picture, they explored the woods near our parked cars and eventually walked across the street to meet up with a person who was waiting for them. It was at that moment that I actually looked at everything else besides the tree and recognized that this might be a place, not a random pull over. Thomas and I have our cameras and walk across the street to take a picture of the tree. When I get closer to the tree I see a big green sign at the bottom that read Heritage Gardens Kepaniwai Park, small script, County of Maui, Department of Parks. There were a few buildings at the edge of the road near the tree, but I didn’t see anyone or anything that would have been an indication of activity or it being a public space. Somehow, the tree and the few buildings completely shielded the large groups of people strolling on the remainder of the vast property. I couldn’t believe we almost drove right past it, but I imagine that if we would have continued up the road, we would have had known to stop.

As soon as we got further into the park, we were kids in a candy store. Every few paces resulted in a stop and picture. There were exotic flowers pulsating with color, taking the form of unusual shapes and angles and huge green vegetation that provided cover for them all. Surrounding us was a scattering of architectural structures, statues and memorial gardens commemorating Hawaii’s diverse heritage of indigenous and immigrant people. If you could imagine Epcot Center on a smaller scale, without the crowd than you are here; Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Native Hawaiian, New England, Portuguese, Puerto Rican people are all represented.

Another thing that unexpectedly caught our attention was an empty swimming pool whose bottom has now been taken over by short green sprouts. There was something striking about it. Perhaps it was a bit of a paradox – a pool with only an inch of water that is now lush in its own lush environment. Man can make exquisite things, but we can never rival Mother Nature.

With all the beauty of the gardens, the structures and unexpected paradoxes, all one has to do is look up to be reminded of the majesty of the nature enclosing the park. Surrounding us were tops of green mountain peeks, with white cottony clouds caravanning around them. I think the locals appreciate the natural environment the most because there were just as many of them as there were visitors. The pavilions were all filled with either kid birthday parties or couples having a picnic lunch, accompanied by their canine companions.

Nearly leaving no stone unturned, we leave the park to proceed to our planned destination. Yeah, there was no way we would have missed that place had we continued driving. The road to Iao Valley State Park curved around the edge of Kepaniwai Park and was the route for turning to the main parking near the pavilions. It ends up that Iao Valley State Park was only a few minutes away. At the park entrance was a park attendant in the booth to collect the parking fee. He was a doll. Probably in his 70s, he reached out of the window with a fish net to scoop the money, since it was a bit of a stretch into cars. We all laughed. At the bottom of the sign posted at the entrance, were wild chickens. I have to say that referring to them as wild seems a bit ironic, since they were very tame in demeanor, just chilling like they owned the place.

Again, this is another case of looks being deceiving. Where we parked the car was unassuming. By now we had seen a few green mountains and trees so there was nothing super spectacular from our vantage point. Yet and still, the lot was full and I had seen pictures of this place and had some idea of the awesomeness to expect. There is a paved pathway from the parking lot that leads up a slight hill pass the restrooms. To the left you are guided by a hedging of piled stones supported by a wood railing painted red attached to rectangular cement posts. When you look beneath the red posts you are overlooking a railed in garden area where someone has spelled out “Aloha” with large pieces of lumber; sweetly, the “O” is made by foot in the shape of a heart. The path we are on is the trail that leads to a higher viewpoint of the needle and eventually down and around the park. We follow along over a bridge that gives you an unobstructed view of Iao and places the needle square in the middle. The bridge is stamped with a marker for it’s 2250 elevation and this backdrop is included in numerous selfies as we stand there. I felt left out and took a very bad one of myself.

Photo credit: Thomas Huggins

Trying to move things along, we continue on the path. The once flat lane yields to a series of steep steps cut into green mounds. The top of each set of steps we would blindly get closer to the needle. At the second to last landing before the top, was a gathering of people. Everyone formed a ring around a young girl whose arm was serving as a perch for some kind of lizard. We join the crowd and blend in to the spectacle. The girl’s mother asks me if I wanted to hold him. I guess she could see the fascination in my eyes. She carefully takes him off her daughter’s arm and places him on mine. He is a Jackson’s Chameleon. The woman and her daughter found him and a baby in the tree nearby. As a native Hawaiian, she informed us that they are indigenous and can be found all over. On his head were three long perfectly shaped horns; one right over his nose (if he had one) and two set in-between his eyes. His skin was a dazzling illumination of greens. Each eye was moving independently of each other, one scanned me to make sure I wasn’t a threat and the other kept an eye on the people around us. The head and legs of this gentle animal moved slowly and gracefully. I can say that my arm has never been photographed as much as it had that day. His 15 minutes of fame were up, with me anyways. She removed him from my arm. I enjoyed my Jack Hanna moment.

Back on track, we continue up the path. When you reach the end, a red pole and post shelter with a pitched shingled roof and an intimate view of the needle awaits you. Underneath the roof was a bench on each side for anyone that wanted to soak in the view or take a break. I took that time to do both. The brilliance of nature is that it makes you pause and wonder. The needle was much closer and was definitely something to marvel. To sit and think about the time and creation of natural landmarks such as Iao needle is difficult to fathom. This seemingly slight formation stands as the remains of erosion; an unknown span of time that water swirled around it and worn away the rest. How long would that take - thousands or millions of years? Add the span of human history that includes those that gathered here 1,000 years ago to us, to those who will be in this exact same place possibly another 1,000 years from now, and I am dumbfounded.

There was still more path to travel that took you further down to the valley floor and the Iao Valley Stream. Down we went. As I rounded the curve of the path that led under the trees and along the stream, it quickly transitioned from park time to pool time. There were quite a few groups of people that were bathing suit clad and sitting, cooling off in the water of the stream. Cutting over and through the rocks, the torrent created swift rapids and small pools depending on the formation. It looked like the people may have been locals that were taking advantage of this opportunity to frolic in the water. I think tourists like myself would not know about it, not be prepared or not know a smart place to enter. The end of the trail led to the “Aloha” that I was able to see when we first entered.

It was decided to go on the west side of the island after Iao Valley State Park to scout out the direction of the sunset. Thomas had a few lists of his own for our trip, which included time-lapse photos of the sunset. The drive was nice as we followed the coastline. Our stomachs stopped us in Lahaina. Dinner was at Lu Lu's Lahaina Surf Club & Grill. The restaurant was pretty empty, but you can tell that it must be popular or there would be no reason to have such a large establishment. Inside, the décor was a surf theme with surfboards mounted on walls and large opened windows that created and indoors/outdoors experience. In front was a big stage for bands that had floating tiki-hut roofs and in the back were several pool tables. The ceiling of this place was so high that an outrigger canoe suspended in the air was still nowhere close to being head height. Smack dab in the center was a large bar with at 4 flat screen tvs. Our surf experience was complete when our waiter approached the table because he was a surfer stereotype. He was very laid back and friendly. One of the first things he said to us was that they were not serving alcohol and he wanted to make sure that was not a problem. I think I overheard the bartender later tell an unhappy bar regular that it had something to do with their liquor license. I’m no restaurant owner, but I think it is safe to say that no liquor meant a lot less money in his or her pockets right now.

The menu looked appetizing. My eyes immediately focused on an item described as “Homemade Maryland Blue Crab Cakes.” What!? Ok, let me say as a native of Maryland, that I have been repeatedly duped and confused about this claim of (air quotes) Maryland Blue crab cake or Maryland Style crab cake. On more than one occasion I have naively ordered one of these allusions of a crab cake only to disappointingly find out that they must be talking about a different Maryland. See us Maryland folk take crabs and crab cakes seriously, apologies if I am preaching to the choir. There is a very distinct formula for the crab cakes that includes the kind of crabmeat used, the proportion of mustard and mayo and type of breading and our favorite, Old Bay. I mean this is serious business. My father makes a mean crab cake. It is so delicious that we always savor the second and take forever to finish eating it.

Needless to say, I did not order said crab cake. While we waited for our food, the tvs with the NBA playoff had everyone’s attention. It was strange to be able to watch this in the middle of the day. I knew at home on the east coast, there were millions of tired eyes watching at the same time we were eating an early lunch/dinner. I haven’t watched NBA basketball in a while but it was pretty exciting. I think we all wanted to see how this was going to play out, some a little more anxiously than others. Since the windows were opened, there were a few guys sitting at the tables outside that were stationed with their heads in the windows hooting and hollering. I thought it was pretty funny. It didn’t take long to finish our food but we hung around a bit for the game.

The outcome of the game looked like a no-brainer and we left. During our walk out we noticed the adjacent Safeway and ABC store. First we stepped into Safeway. I couldn’t believe my eyes; the Fresh Express baby spinach I pay $3.99 max for at home was a whopping $5.99 and they had glazed waffles in the bakery display. Boo and hooray! The ABC was a souvenir disaster because I think we both lost our minds and we came out with very full hands.

It was getting closer to sunset time and we needed to get an answer on which side of the island is best for sunsets. In typical random fashion we find ourselves driving a little ways and pulling over on the side of the road at a place where other cars were also pulling in and out. At that particular spot, there were no barriers between the cars and ocean. The sun was in full view as it started to settle on the handful of boats anchored for the night. Both the cumulus clouds and ocean were rushing in. The spray from the water was vaulting over the rocks below. Standing at the end of the pull off was a man who was intermittently playing a wooden flute. He chats us up and says he lives there and tells us that this is a great spot to watch the sea turtles. He was a bit odd but friendly. Next to him was the start of backyards belonging to a set of houses hidden behind some trees and when it was quiet you could hear the chatter of its residents. The sky starts to change colors to a sherbet orange and everything in the horizon starts to fade. The lights begin to twinkle along the shore and it is now dark. Our attention is now focused towards the sky as the stars appeared one by one. Venus and Jupiter stole the show shining bright as could be.

Like the cars that came and went while we stood there, we too made our exit. We get back to the condo and I am thankful for another chance to look out the window to gaze at the ocean as I fall into a deep slumber.

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