SATURDAY, JUNE 6, 2015
Random Observation: I think as drivers, we have all had the experience of an animal, whether it’s 4 legged or 2, deciding to play chicken with you and your car in the street. Most times you feel pretty confident that they will submit to the car and refrain from getting too close to your tires. However, Thomas and I noticed that this one particular species of bird was repeatedly taking its sweet time crossing the street. We decided to call it a thug bird and forgive me; I know this may not be politically correct. People have gotten in trouble for using the term “thug,” when it was not appropriate. For that reason, I Googled and have determined that it may be a Zebra Dove - I think. What I do know for sure is that these birds made us nervous on numerous occasions. They simply mosey out of the way, if that. You honestly think that you are going to drive over every single one, no matter how accustomed you are to their defiant behavior.
I had made a decision during the early part of the trip to Maui that there was going to be some element of “vacation” thrown into the schedule. Considering that we are approximately 4,783 miles away, it would be foolish not to take advantage of this opportunity of being in Maui. Thomas and I had both expressed interest in kayaking as our excursion. In every tourist guidebook, there were at least 3 kayak tours advertised. I did a little research and review checking and came across Kayak Olowalu. Since we were now running out of days in Maui, this inclusion of vacation had to be a smart use of time. Saturday was scheduled for Haleakalā National Park and I didn’t want to take a chance doing something that was time intensive and risk not having enough allotted time for the park. For the 10th time, let me be clear, by no means am I a natural early bird (I’m more of a night owl), but it made the most sense to sign up for the first trip out at 8:00 am. The tour was a 2.5-hours, bringing us back to the shore at 10:30 am. Friday it was booked and a done deal.
This is one early Saturday. Kayak Olowalu asked that you arrive at 7:30 am. I did it. I woke up on time. Sprang up like a chicken. It is funny how your mind can play tricks on you. My attitude about waking up early is only shaky when it comes to work, but I can manage to get up and going if I know that an adventure awaits.
Lucky for me, we didn’t have too far to go. Kayak Olowalu is in Lahaina. The directions were pretty straightforward until you get to the part about where to actually turn off to get to the place. That was a slight miss. There is no huge neon sign with arrows telling you where to turn and you can’t rely on GPS to get it right. It ends up that Kayak Olowalu is seated right next to Camp Olowalu, which is a darling campsite with A-frame cabins and sites for tents. Navigating the parking lot was precarious. I think we ended up following other parking folks because we still weren’t clear on where to go. Plus there was some huge log lying across the parking lot and I have no idea why. Eventually we found a place to park and hunted down the entrance.
We were the first to arrive; the family that we followed in the parking lot eventually funneled through. Under the shade of a large tree on the beach, we found Bradley, our tour guide for the day. He was a native, young with toasted skin. His smile let you know immediately that he was genuinely a friendly person and happy to be there. I bet he has already seen at least a thousand half awake and half excited faces already this year. There was a swift introduction while he was starting to prepare for the tour.
In total, once everyone showed up, there were 3 groups. One family, the group that we followed in the parking lot, was comprised of parents and two daughters. The girls were teenagers or young adults. I assumed that they were adopted since the girls were of Asian descent and the parents were white. The last group to join us was another family. Like the first, they too were diverse and made up of parents and two daughters. The mother was black and the father was white. The thing I noticed right away was that both of the girls had extremely raspy voices. These middle aged, smoking cigar and drinking bourbon straight, voices came out of the mouth of these two young girls. Oddly enough, it was endearing, especially from the youngest that may not have been more than 10 years old. The older girl was at least a pre teen. Perhaps the other thing that added to the manliness of the girl’s voices was that they were referring to the father by his first name as if they were all going to sit down at a bar. I do however realize that this also could have been an indication that he may have been a stepfather. Any scenario, family is family, blood or not.
Whether it was the voices or the youthfulness of the group, this particular family was way more animated than the rest of us and I had a feeling that one way or the other, they were going to make the trip more interesting. Already I knew that they were from Southern California and the father snorkels often because he brought his own gear and he also asked if he could take his life jacket off for the snorkeling. Bradley conducted a brief yet effective overview of the fundamentals of kayaking and how to dismount and mount for snorkeling. As he sized us all up, he went back and forth to a makeshift shed type/cabinet thing that housed all the fins, life jackets, snorkel masks and accessories to retrieve everything we needed. When everyone had all the necessary gear, we were assigned a kayak. Since they were tandem kayaks, we all paired up fairly quickly. On the beach the kayaks were neatly lined up, one by one, as if we were going to dash off in a race. In the horizon was water as far as the eye could see, only slightly edged out by the greenest of mountains saddled by white puffy clouds traversing the bright blue sky.
At last! The moment I have been anxiously waiting for. I am in my bathing suit with my rash guard on, ready to set foot in the Pacific Ocean. Thomas and I were sent out first. Quickly we both ease into the kayak and off we go. I sat up front and Thomas was in the back. The goal was to get past the waves breaking on the shore and wait for the rest of the group. Eventually we are all together, including Bradley. If you can close your eyes and imagine the clearest, most sparkling teal blue water, you are there. The further away you are from the shore, it becomes more difficult to believe how deep the water has become and how easily you can see the entire world below magnified.
Bradley surveyed the area and the clarity of the water and determined that we would go a little further out. This particular part of the island is known for the turtle cleaning stations, which makes it popular for snorkeling. Yes, some of you are asking what is a turtle cleaning station. In short, to prevent from boring you with my nerdy marine biology knowledge, it is a free car wash for turtles: a cleaning symbiosis. Various marine life congregate in certain places with the expectation of getting cleaned by having parasites removed from their body by other marine life that are hungry and happy to eat said parasites. Therefore, the cleaning stations are ideal places for snorkeling because you are guaranteed to see turtles and their helpful friends in a concentrated area.
As we continued to kayak further out, Bradley gave a history lesson about the island. Specifically, he discussed kapu, the ancient Hawaiian code of conduct of laws and regulations. During our trip, it was obvious how the people of this island respect the kapu system and how it is responsible for the sustained beauty of the land and the people. As we neared the spot, Bradley gave us instructions on what to do next. We were to stop paddling and try our best to assemble into a cluster so he could tether us all together, one behind each other. While we were attempting to do this, he gathered the anchor and jumped out of his kayak. One by one he attached each kayak back to front to the next to form a train. After we were all secured we cleaned our masks and it was our turn to slither off the kayak like he had shown us earlier after. This was a precise movement. You put your fins on, place your mask on and make sure it is on properly. When you are ready, you place your legs over and drop yourself in.
I was in and from that moment on, I did not want to leave. I placed the mouthpiece in my mouth, took a breath and kicked away. There is never a moment to date that I have felt this free. This was why I wanted to be a marine biologist. This was exactly why. Everyone went his or her separate way, giving you the kind of space that made you feel like the ocean was all yours. It didn’t take long to start seeing the turtles. You have to wonder if they look at us floating around in the water with the same awe that we look at them, or if they at least have the same curiosity. The only way to describe seeing a turtle in its natural habitat is to compare it to a bird. With fluid movements and an effortless glide and change of direction, you could forget that you are in fact in water and not floating in the air. I just couldn’t believe how incredible this was. I have to admit that it was an emotional moment for me. I can’t adequately describe how this made me feel. It was almost like being away from home for a long time and finally getting back. It sounds strange, but I think that was it. I felt like I was home (I’m not making this up).
In a world where you are constantly surrounded by the chaos of people and moving cars, buildings all with the hum of an intangible haste, swimming in the open waters and creating your own pace of exploration is emancipating. Inside my warped imagination, I envisioned myself being able to swim with the turtles, hand in fin. No communication necessary except for the mutual gratitude of freedom. I don’t recall how much time we had to snorkel, but I do know for a fact that is was not long enough. Needless to say I was highly disappointed when Bradley called us back to the kayaks.
Gradually, everyone carefully tried to remember the steps for getting back on the kayak without tipping it over; right hand here, left hand there. Thomas and I both made it into the kayak successfully. Some of the others were not as lucky. As I suspected, it was the Southern California mother and the eldest daughter that tipped their kayak over. It was quite the spectacle. There was a lot of screaming and frenzy and loose articles from their kayak now floating in the water. Bradley was kind enough to retrieve all the items before they disappeared in the ocean, leaving the two to continue to attempt to get back in the kayak. In the end it took several more tries but they made it.
To get back to shore we followed each other back to a landmark on the beach. Bradley guided us back in individually onto the shore. We unpacked our gear and returned the items back at the picnic table in front of the equipment shed. As we surrounded the table shaded by the tree, Bradley brought out the sweetest pineapple for us to share. We all dug in and chatted a bit. During the conversation, Bradley gave some suggestions for lunch and at the top of his list was the place across the street called Leoda’s Kitchen and Pie Shop. It sounded tasty but we decided to head back. We gathered our belongings and said our goodbyes and thanks. *I apologize for the lack of images. It was not prudent to take cameras on this trip. If you are interested, here is the link for Kayak Olowalu.
Our lunch sights were on a place called Pizza Madness. Many of the Maui Guide brochures claimed that this was the best pizza in town. We shall see! A few extra turns and we found the place. It was hidden in a strip mall parking lot. When you walked in it was pretty open and dark with wood paneled walls. There were several picnic table and bench combos along with your typical square table with chairs in the same color wood as the walls. The menu was a full and inviting. Salad was had and I ordered the special pizza and Thomas ordered his less meaty version. I think we were both pretty hungry by this time. It wasn’t too late in the day yet, but I think our kayak tour left us ready for major nourishment. When our pies came out, they looked fantastically fresh. No fancy presentation. The pizza was the star of the show and was only served on a cardboard round and placed on the table. Thomas’ was crust was a bit charred. The manager was kind enough to tell him that if the crust was over cooked, they would gladly make sure that another was made. Somehow, we both managed to make quick work of the slices.
During our meal, we discussed a lot of things. A good portion of the conversation was about our kayak/snorkel tour. Thomas enjoyed the experience as much as I did. We even discussed the idea of purchasing our own gear for snorkeling so we could be like Southern California guy. Conveniently, Pizza Madness was adjacent to the Maui Dive Shop. There was a single door inside both establishments that allowed you to easily slip into one or the other without going outside. Our curiosity took us over the line. You name it, they had it in every experience level and cost. A lot of the gear was bundled to make it easier to purchase all at once. This is definitely something that I want to look into. This is not going to be my last snorkel experience. I am even considering scuba diving lessons. Whether it is real oxygen or high pressure breathing gas from a tank, I am getting back in the water again. As a memento, I purchased a Maui dive tank top and grabbed their catalogue.
Time is fleeting and we still have to get to Haleakalā National Park. We go back to our place and get ready for the second half of the day. Gear is grabbed and we head off. I thought I knew what to expect when we got there, even though the images on the internet looked like something out of this world. When we arrived at Haleakalā National Park, we had already had a full and amazing morning. As soon as we began our ascent to Haleakalā National Park, however, all of our amazement from the morning was refueled with new excitement. Our first stop was to the Headquarters Visitor Center. When we were inside, we took the opportunity to ask the National Park Service (NPS) interpreter about Haleakalā National Park and the geography of Maui. He used a wooden pointer and explained, pointed, and slid the wall map from side to side and we were tickled like kids back in school. This was teaching at its finest. It was such a thorough explanation filled with riveting facts that we could have stayed much longer and asked more questions. Instead, we browsed around and I eventually purchased a sweatshirt because the temperature during the ascent had dropped significantly, and I was cold and clearly under-dressed with my knees out and arms out. It was a bit pricey, but Thomas liked it and I planned on giving to him afterwards. That sweatshirt could have been $200 and I still would have purchased it to keep warm.
The higher and higher we climbed the narrow winding road, the more I couldn’t believe how small the world was becoming below and how much more there was ahead of us. With each curve and climb, we read the elevation signs and the numbers continued to get larger. When we finally reached the summit, the clouds looked like we could touch them if we were fast enough to catch them. Thomas and I hiked a small trail together and eventually went our separate ways for personal exploration. How crazy this place was. I could have been on another planet, or on top of the world, or both. Besides being in an airplane, I have never seen peaks of clouds.
After we finished exploring, we descended down to the sliding sands to view the crater. The large swirls of red sand looked hand brushed as they collided into a brown and white rugged terrain that the eye fails to decipher its beginning or end. Ultimately, the pictures did it no justice. It was even more out of this world than I imagined. Somehow, while we were in this foreign environment, on the complete other side of the world from where we came, we struck a conversation with another park visitor who made that extreme distance from home vanish. At first it was a typical conversation had by those who meet in such awe-inspiring places. You discuss your experience or perhaps other places you have traveled; that is how this conversation was going, fairly typical. As this conversation continues we find out that this man, with whom we were sharing a park experience, had lived in the same state and the same city as us and here we were meeting almost 10,000 feet above sea level in a state thousands of miles from our home. In that moment, my feeling of being so small in the world among the grand majesty of this park changed into a feeling of being a part of something so big; it was simply unbelievable.
After we said our goodbyes, it was getting closer to sunset. Plenty of people were staking their claim along the rail that overlooked the bouncing peaks of clouds that started to play second fiddle to the sun. Their white color began to contrast, now changing from a cool blue to an ember warm glow of yellow and orange. Never had I seen a sunset this remarkable. Never had I felt this gratified. Parked nearby was an SUV with the back open. Two men with discernible European accents and euro tech pumping were guides waiting for their clients as they peered over the peak of the Haleakala.
They were sharing a drink and enjoying their company. The music made the experience surreal.
After a while outside, I got back in the car. The temperature was continuing to drop below 50 degrees and even with the sweatshirt I couldn’t handle the numbing cold any longer. Thomas had grabbed some cameras and joined the others closer to the rail. Inside the car, the view was still as stunning. Slowly the sun kept dropping in the sky, making a kaleidoscope of colors. Eventually Thomas returned and we started to head back. On the way, we stopped at an overlook. When we pulled up there was a small passenger van with almost all of its passengers taking pictures. They were jumping and standing on the edge. The lighting was something that could not be recreated. I got why they chose to do this. When standing on the edge, the person became a dark silhouette against this tri-colored horizon with a floor of white cottony clouds.
I hate to admit to being a copycat. Once the group left, we did exactly the same. All the light was starting to disappear and it was time to go. While we wound down the now quiet road, we pulled over one more time to look at the twinkling lights of the city below. In short time, the ones in the sky rivaled the twinkling lights of Maui. This day will be hard to be outdone. Aloha kakahiaka Moana, Aloha ahiahi Lani.