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The Real Cats of Maui

FRIDAY, JUNE 5, 2015

The time is slowly getting away from us and we have been on the road for 10 days and have hardly put a dent in Maui. It was Friday, and today’s scheduled itinerary included the infamous road to Hana and Wai'anapanapa State Park. For the record, I only refer to the road to Hana as “infamous” because of how it is presented in the tourism guides. In plain speak, it is said to be an impressive drive with a strict list of suggestions and warnings. In Hawaii tourism website speak (for the purpose of setting dramatic background):

  • Start Early For A Smoother Ride

  • Load Up On Supplies

  • Pick Your Spots Carefully

  • Be respectful of locals on the road

  • Respect Kapu (stay off private property)

  • Consider spending the night

  • Some guides even suggest taking a Dramamine for motion sickness along with changing drivers, not drinking any alcohol and leaving Hana by 4 pm to avoid driving back in the dark.

Let’s break down the topography of the road to Hana: according to the sum of the tourism info, the road to Hana has 59 bridges, 46 of which are only one lane wide and there are approximately 620 curves, nearly all of it through lush, tropical rainforest. After having driven the road, it is a very fair description. The road is not for the faint of heart, but the views and destinations from the road are nothing less than breath taking.

The morning was the usual for us. We got up and meandered a bit, both on the computer doing one thing or the other. I was pretty excited about the trip. I imagined that the road would be a bit of an obstacle but worth it in the end. I also imagined, that maybe the warnings could have been stern to account for anyone that may not have taken any slight suggestion seriously. My only real priority on this day was to make sure to put my bathing suit on and carry my fancy addidas water shoes in case there was a fantasy watering hole along the way or at Wai'anapanapa State Park. I was still jealous of the bathing suited, carefree park goers at Iao Valley State Park from the day before.

Remember the part earlier when I stated that the 46 of the 59 bridges were one lane? When they say one lane, they mean that only one car can cross from either direction. Even when there are 2 lanes, the road is narrow, leaving you to guess what’s coming when you come around one of the 620 tight curves. Did I mention that some of the curves are on sheer cliffs with 100 ft + drops in some of the areas without guardrails?

Between mile marker 12 & 13, our first stop was Kaumahina State Wayside Park. I noticed when we parked, that there were a few of the tour vans suggested as alternatives for those who opted out to drive this road. Seated off the back, at picnic tables were families already in wet bathing suits and towels and eating their lunch. Where did they get soaked already? No matter how we got there, or what we had done already, we were all clearly enjoying our surroundings (even the wild chickens). Atop this perch, there was a spectacular view of the Ke'anae Peninsula. Daily there is always this blur of blue water and green here that’s magnificent. As Thomas and I were leaning at the railing’s furthest point, we met a couple from Alabama celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary. We exchanged pleasantries and personal stories and briefly united in marveling at all that is Maui. They seemed to be very nice people and Thomas and I were pleased to see a genuine example of long lasting love in this day and age. Based on the many conversations Thomas and I have had about our romantic lives, past and present, I have determined that we are both hopeless romantics and would look forward to a 40-year union with the loves of our lives.

Recognizing that we may have already not followed the one suggested rule of choosing your stops, it was time to move it along. There was literally a lot of road left ahead of us. There was no midnight sun in Hawaii and the sun will set on you fast if you stop anywhere you can on the way to Hana. It is wise to be judicious with your time as you pass tempting lavender fields and banana bread offerings along the way. I can’t imagine how people have managed to live off of this bendy road. The thought of the physical move and the daily commute is dizzying. Again, by no means am I trying to deter anyone from making this trip. The road is amazing and has a life of its own. Thomas thought it would be a good idea to film the drive because it would be impossible to explain; swizzle straws, end to end. I imagine, amongst all the road zaniness, the residents probably feel like they are living in a cloud and it is worth the drive.

The next place that caught our eye could have possibly gone unnoticed had it not been for the mini parking strip and little lines of people near the bridge. While we were driving down into the bend about to pass over another one lane bridge, the activity was a clear indication that there could be a great reason to stop. However, when there is a narrow road and no place, what so ever to pull a car over, you have to keep moving and hope that ahead there could be a bump out to turn around. Let me say that trying to make 3 point turn is a tight situation.

A little ways up, we made the turn with the hope that by the time we got back to the bridge, one of the cars would have moved along and there would be a place to nestle next to the rock and park. We lucked out and found said place. It was a close parking job due to the lack of space and my passenger side door was inches to the mountainside. Those fancy water shoes came in handy because as soon as I looked after opening the door, I could see the mini waterfall that was cascading right next to me. Waterfalls along the sides of the mountains in Alaska and Hawaii seem to be a given. I proudly got out and walked into the water undefeated. Take that puddle.

We immediately began our exploration and walked to the bridge. Out in the distance, hidden by the lush foliage were a series of waterfalls the height of small buildings. It seemed that within seconds Thomas knew that he was going to send the drone up. We walked back to the car and unpacked it and set the remotes up, one for him and one for me. I did some research after the fact, but what we were now marveling over was Upper Waikani Falls (three bears falls). During the entire time we were there, other travelers continued to take liberal turns parking and leaving; a revolving door of cars. One family had a mini van with a flat tire. Not the best place to be if you don’t have a spare or know how to fix it. Almost every other car asked if they need any assistance but they refused, stating that they had help on the way.

When we were ready for lift off, the signal wasn’t strong and we had to walk to the other side of the bridge to operate the drone. Systems were ready and Thomas sailed it up and away. The feed from the camera opened up our view of the waterfall and surrounding area from human to bird’s eye. The falls were a series of two levels. One large waterfall, almost completely out of view from the road, feeds a pool of water that then creates a second drop off where the three waterfalls cascade into another pool below. Apparently there are ways to get down to the lower pool because there were already people at the foot of it and more trying to find the way. Thomas flew it to the other side, the Makai side (the ocean side of the road) to finish off the round trip flight and landed. The drone was packed up and we continued.

I will not lie, by this point I am extremely happy that Thomas is a “driver” because I can’t say for sure that I would not have been a nervous nellie had I been the one driving. It was not too much further that we made another stop at another bridge. This area seemed more opened and a little less tourist congested with slower traffic. There was a large pull off area that sat across from a residential road going down the hill. Different from a lot of the terrain we passed earlier, this part of the road was not the cliff hanging part. The road to Hana is either cliff hanging while you hug the face of the mountain or its open with large plots of tree covered land with no end in sight. This particular bridge spanned a babbling creek rushing past large round rocks and fallen trees on the Makai side, leading to a waterfall pooling below. This particular pool of water was the most spectacular crystal clear blue and the high sides of the rocks enclose it.

I think it may have been the quietness and the space of the location that made this our second drone flight. Thomas had given me direction to be in the shot and asked that I walk over to the bridge. It may have only been a matter of seconds while we he unpacked the drone that the quietness went away and the cars started coming and people were curious. I was out on the bridge for a while and I took some pictures, acting “natural.”

I am not sure how many miles we had actually traveled at this point. I don’t think either of us cared. It was however time to get back to the car because besides driving the road, our destination was Wai'anapanapa State Park. I can’t recall the distance from Ching’s Pond to the park but we do finally get there. You drive off the main road into this deep cover of trees. The parking lot is partly under the shade but once out from the shelter of the trees, the landscape opened up. The park was full of campers with tents peppered on a large flat green lawn, sprinkled with children at play.

There was a path that circled part of the camping field that ambled around to the ocean. I stopped in my tracks. I know that sounds corny. All true. The translation for Wai'anapanapa is "glistening water," and that’s no lie. White capped waves rush on the black sand beach of Pa'iloa. There are blowholes where the water shoots up through the top of the sea caves like geysers. The path ends at steps taking you down to the beach. There weren’t a lot of people in the water. The majority of the people were looking and exploring. We crossed the beach and followed the trail up and over to the cliff on the other side. The view looked out to the ocean and back onto the entire park, but far away enough that the tents are colorful dots. There were a few people coming and going along the way. One of the passerbys was extra peculiar. It is common for people to say hello or at least acknowledge you at parks, especially when within feet of each other. By this time we had already spoken to quite a few people simply because of the interest in the cameras and the drone. Not only did the he not speak but he looked suspicious to us with his deadpan stare, almost like he was checking us out. We didn’t care for it. We chalked it up to weirdness and left it at that.

The sky was getting softer and softer and telling us gradually to go. The descent back to the beach was swift. Thomas decided to take the drone back out before we climbed the stairs back to the car. There were only two other people at the beach besides us; 2 brave souls swimming in the water. While I was standing, gazing at the water as Thomas prepared for a final flight, I hear loud rustling in the ground cover a few feet away. I would like to think that I am prepared for most things, but the unseen thing making so much noise worried me. I said something to Thomas. The noisemaker revealed itself with its set of glowing green eyes as it hastily ran out from the cover. It was the cutest little kitten and company pawing their way at each other in the tiniest cat tussle. Yes, kittens and perhaps an entire litter. I think I counted at least 6 different little fury faces, patterns and glowing sets of eyes. They seemed to be without a parent. There are really a lot of cats and chickens roaming freely in Maui. They are everywhere, off the sides of the roads, chilling in parking lots, skulking in the bush. I find it bizarre and fascinating at the same time.

When the propellers starting rotating on the drone we lost our kitten crew from the noise but when it took flight it opened the line of communication between the strange passerby and us. He approached us and began to speak. Of course he asked about the drone in the joking way most people do with a reference to NASA or NSA. After that icebreaker, he gave us the biggest history of Maui and Wai'anapanapa State Park we could have asked for. It all made sense. He was a descendent of King Pi'ilani, the native landowner of the Wai'anapanapa. His grandparents are buried at the park at a private cemetery quietly settled under trees, overlooking the ocean. He has recently moved back and visits the park often to covertly enforce the laws of his people. He admitted that was indeed checking us and everyone else out. When the land was his grandparent’s, there were strict tribal laws that prohibited certain things like fishing in certain parts. I saw beauty in the irony of family legacy and how it has crossed our paths thousands of miles away. It was an honor to have met him and for him to share his noble history. Click here for audio of conversation

At the top of the steps to the parking lot, we went our separate ways. The park closes at 6:00pm. We were getting back to the car after 7:00 pm. In our normal shenanigans style, we had to figure something out because the gate was literally closed with a chain. Thomas pulled the car and parked in front of gate. He got out of the car and I got in the driver’s seat to pull the car through as he took the chain off the gate and opened it for enough space for the car to exit. I parked and we take our original positions. Times like this, I wish this entire journey were a TV show with an entire crew, solely for the purpose of catching our antics.

Slowly we crawl back out through the entrance and back on the main road. I wasn’t even going to try to be nice and offer to drive. There was no point in me being a hero. That drive back was scary. With no streetlights or daylight, that is an entirely different experience that felt like it doubled the length of the trip. I have to give mad props to Thomas for this one. He is my driving hero. The things that we witnessed in the shine of the headlights on the way back were always a surprise. It ranged from loose or penned animals, to amazing stars. By days end, the final approximated roadside to Hana tally was 100 Hawaiian squirrels, 1 bull, 50 wild chickens, 1000 cats, and 1 dog. Poor outnumbered dog. Oh, and two very grateful to be off a dark curvy road, happy people. What a wonderfully adrenaline rush of a day. I wouldn’t have changed anything about it.

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