Hawaii, Here I come!
Maui. July 2009. Copyright Ashish Gupta.
I had first wished to go to Hawaii when I could still count my age on my fingers. Back then, I did not know that Hawaii is a part of USA, the country that I would call my second home. I had seen a Looney Tunes cartoon where the protagonist dreamt of going to Hawaii. The cartoon showed Hawaii as an exotic island where people laze around in front of pristine blue beaches sipping Mai Tai, occasionally shifting their gaze from the ocean to the girls doing Hula. The cartoon character tried everything from building a boat, shooting himself through a canon, tying himself to a rocket and throwing a hook onto a passing by air plane, all in the pursuit of reaching this mystical land. My entry to Hawaii was uneventful in comparison. All I did was buy a plane ticket from SFO to Maui, one of the five major islands that form the state of Hawaii.
Day 1: Arrival
The smell of tropical ocean hit our nostrils as soon as we got off the plane. We were welcomed with a garland of violet colored Hibiscus at the airport — similar to the one from the cartoon. Dreams do come true.
We had booked a beach facing room in the Lahaina Shores Beach Resort. We checked in around 3 pm and soon fell asleep. Have you ever wondered why flights make you so tired? It is because the flight cabins are maintained at low air pressure. This has the same effect as that of being in a place of high altitude. You get less oxygen with each breath. This makes you tired.
Lahaina resort is on the west coast of Maui. The west coast is bright and sunny, with pristine blue water and sandy white beaches. I had never seen a bluer blue color.
Day 2: Haleakala
The sound of alarm woke us up at 2 am. We ate a few bananas, packed a few more along with some water in a backpack and started our drive towards our first destination in Hawaii — Haleakala mountain. Hawaiian islands are formed by volcanic eruptions that started deep under the ocean. Each island is formed due to the emergence of one or more volcanic crater above the ocean surface. Haleakala is the bigger of the two craters that form the Maui island.
Standing at 10000 feet height, it is famous for its sunrises. We reached there well in time and picked a nice spot to witness the event. After a long wait, the pitch black darkness of the moonless night was slowly replaced with a faint orange glow. The glow turned brighter with time and then, we saw a golden lining form on the edge of the clouds. The sun was in no hurry to come out, as if, it wanted to give us the chance to soak in the beauty of the moment. Sunrises and sunsets have some sort of unfathomable beauty. This was the best I had ever experienced.
Later that evening, we wandered aimlessly along the streets of the town where we were staying. We love the hubbub of tourist destinations. We picked up pizza from a restaurant along the way and sat under a giant banyan tree. Some kids were doing Hula under it. We ate the pizza enjoying the kids mimic the motion of ocean waves. This was one of the rare and cherished moments when Poonam and I forgot our past and our future and lived then and there, in that moment.
Day 3: Cruise
Local folks had told us that attending a Luau is a must to complete the Hawaiian experience. A typical luau is a meat eater’s feast, accompanied by entertainment like local music and Hula. The main dish of the event is pork, which is slow cooked, whole, in an earth oven called imu. Since we are not pork eaters, we skipped Luau.
Instead, we planned a half day long boat cruise for the third day of our trip. We boarded the boat early afternoon. The first activity on the cruise was snorkeling. I did not know swimming back then and had never snorkeled. The deck crew gave us some basic instructions on breathing and handed us a set of snorkel tubes. Looking at the choppy water, Poonam decided that she wasn’t going to snorkel.
I put my brave face on and jumped into the ocean wearing a life jacket. The first moment of panic came as soon as I put my head under water. The ocean floor was more than 30 feet away. I could see giant fishes swimming under me. I need to get back to the boat, I thought. My second moment of panic came when I started flailing my arms in an attempt to get back towards the boat. Water entered my mouth through the snorkel pipe. The instructor had told us that when this happens, just blow hard. I tried, but the water kept coming. I gave up and removed the snorkel from my mouth. Thank god for the life jacket. My first ever snorkeling experience was over, just like that.
Once back on the boat, I dried up and changed. As if sensing that I was quite shaken up, the boat crew got us Mai Tai. So tasty. This is the drink of the gods. I have tried Mai Tai in many other places since, but nothing ever came close to the sort of Mai Tais I had in Hawaii. We forgot all about the snorkeling fiasco soon.
The crew had told us that if we are lucky, we should be able to spot a few dolphins on this cruise. While we were on our second glass of Mai Tai, one of the crew members drew our attention towards the ocean. Dolphins! We spotted a few right next to our boat. But wait, there were more. In fact, there were dolphins as far as we could see. We were surrounded by them from all directions. The boat crew told us that it is not uncommon for dolphins to live in schools 2000 to 5000 big. We were surrounded by one such school.
Witnessing this unique sight, Poonam and I became kids again. We kept running from one edge of the boat to the other, trying to follow and track these intelligent mammals as they swam and jumped out of water.
We ended the day on the boat, witnessing the 4th of July fireworks as the boat docked near the island at a nice vantage point.
Day 4: Drive to Hana
Bananas are life savers when you travel. We had a long day ahead and had to leave really early in the morning. We ate a breakfast of bananas and started on the drive to Hana. Hana is a beautiful coastal drive along the circumference of the island. As soon as we crossed over to the eastern part of the island, we were surprised to see a drastic change in the climate. It was foggy, overcast and cold.
We stopped by to have coconut ice cream on the way and the shopkeeper told us that the east coast of Hawaiian islands receive some of the heaviest rainfall in the world. Hot sun evaporates the ocean water nearby, which is carried towards the Hawaiian mountains by wind. Cold mountain peaks make the water immediately fall down as rain.
We love waterfalls. Along the Hana drive, we came across a waterfall at every mile. We kept stopping at each, which made our progress very slow. We also witnessed a lot of rainbows. We saw a double rainbow. We saw a full circle of a rainbow. Several of the rainbows seemed so close that we could touch them. Now we knew why Hawaii is called The Rainbow State.
Our drive to Hana ended at the Seven Sacred Pools of Ohe’o which is at the southernmost point of Maui. It is a cascade of seven small waterfalls, with a small pool at the base of each. We took a quick dip in the pool and then started our drive back to the hotel. It was already dark. The drive back to the hotel in pitch darkness was scary through all the bends and curves.
Day 5: Fly Back
Just as much fun a good trip is, the last day is typically the worst part of the trip. We did not want to say goodbye to Hawaii. It had proved to be everything that I had imagined and then some more. We had barely scratched the surface. Poonam and I did not talk much on the last day of the trip. We just resolved to return to Hawaii soon, which we did. More on that later.