If you live in the Bay Area, Maui is on your doorstep. However, you do have to endure the tedium of the Hawaiian Islands. In the winter, the air is 78 degrees, the sea is 78 degrees, even the rain is 78 degrees. We rarely go in the summer; it’s too hot and crowded
We have been going to Maui for over 30 years. We’ve visited all the other islands, too. Each has it’s own allure, but for us, Maui is a place to go to relax, even for just a few days. It’s not just another vacation; it’s like going home.
Getting there is part of being there. Once you hit that airline seat, you’ve arrived. The trip is out of your hands. Resist the Mai Tai on the plane as a relaxer; they’re awful and, after all, it’s only 10 in the morning. Just try to embrace the land of slow.
We take the early-ish flight from Oakland, arriving at Maui at about 11:00 local time. One of the best moments of the trip is when you’ve just stepped off the plane. You’re wrapped in warm moist island breeze. And that breeze is best if you’re dressed for it. If you’re still bundled up from your early morning mainland climate, by the time you pick up your bags, get on the shuttle bus and secure your car, which will be your first chance to be in air conditioning, sweat will be dripping from your chin with your undies in a bunch.
You have two choices, leave your house in shorts and flops, braving the early morning chill. Or, as I often do, wear your cool weather clothes and pack your shorts and T in your carry on. At some point in mid-flight, change in the airplane toilet.
The now universal fold-down baby-changing table is a big help, but it’s still a bit of a wrestling match trying not to step barefoot into the unidentified moisture on the floor, which only gets soggier near the end of the flight. First, put down the toilet seat and lower the changing table. Now, there’s virtually no way your phone can find it’s way into the toilet. Take off your shoes and socks one by one and stand on your flops, remove your phone, wallet, keys and put them on a dry spot on the counter, drop your pants carefully keeping them off the floor, put them on the changeing table, step into your shorts, and reinstall your pocket contents, transfer the belt, change your shirt and slip into your flops.
You’re almost done. Now all you have to do is exit the toilet with your mainland clothes bundled in your arms and endure the stares of the long line of people who have been waiting endlessly for you to finish.
Whenever I do this I think of the five-mile club, whose members have been reported to have had sex in an airplane toilet. As I’m wrestling with my trousers, it seems unlikely to be a fun event, especially at my age, and one that, at the least, risks a major charlie horse. So you emerge, looking like a local,
or like a round pink person in a Hawaiian shirt.
Be calm when you go to get your bags. Try to never be in a hurry for the whole trip. Actually, you really should be able to do with carry-on. Amazingly in a pinch, they actually sell clothes in Hawaii and there’s no State Law prohibiting washing out undies in the sink, though you really shouldn’t dry them on the lanai. There’s virtually nowhere where you can’t go in a T-shirt, shorts and flops. If you must dress up a little, with one Aloha shirt or a little dress that you can roll into a ball, you’re good to go. I’ve never returned from Hawaii and said, “Darn, I took too few clothes.”
So with your small bag in hand, saunter, do not sprint, to the rental car bus. People often try to pretend they aren’t tourists but why try so hard to be cool. If they try to put a lei around your neck, a sure brand of a tourist, let them. When they thrust out the magazine with all the tourist advertisements, take it and thank them. This is your first chance to use Mahalo (thank you in Hawaiian). These magazines will actually come in handy or, at the very least, provide almost a week’s bathroom reading. Remember, you actually are a tourist. Now pause…….., don’t run for that bus that is about to leave, you’re in no hurry. Look up and you’ll see that beautiful mountains surround the airport, one a 10,000-foot volcanic cone draped in clouds. OK now, get on the next bus.
The rental counter can be the next test. If you book the flight and car together, sometimes it works out that all 200 people on the flight had the same great idea and converge on the same rental desk at the same time. Try to avoid that by booking your car and flight separately and signing up for the rental company’s express services. But even with the best planning you sometimes end up at the end of a long line testing your resolve to remain in the land of slow. It’s not the end of the world if you linger here 30 minutes or even more. Remember you’ve already arrived. Lines are excellent people watching places.
I recall once watching most of the last period of an NBA final game while in the car rental line. The entire room was transfixed as Michael Jordan displayed memorable brilliance. People could hardly tear themselves away when it was their turn to step up to the counter. More than one person stayed for the end of the game even after getting their car. Now they’d arrived.
First Beach Stop
To mark our arrival, we stow our bags, decide who will drive, get in the car, adjust the seats, mirrors, buckle up and pass through the security gate. Instead of turning right toward the highway as instructed, we turn left heading for a Kanaha Beach Park five minutes away.
Kanaha Beach is a famous windsurfing and kite boarding venue but that’s not until the afternoon when the trade winds build. We take the road to the last park entrance then go to an almost empty parking lot at the far end of the beach and walk through a wooded park, regaled by tropical birds and chickens, to the beach. This is where the full impact of being on an island, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, hits us. This is the windward side of the island, where a warm sea salt breeze that has been running uninterrupted for over 3,000 miles from the mainland fills our lungs. The sky is a tumble of billowing multi-colored clouds against brilliant blue sky; the sea is a blue and green reflection of the sky with white breakers crashing on a reef 200 yards off the beach.
We stand knee deep in perfectly clear water as it laps over the soft white white sand. As Susan is nearly a foot shorter than I am, I stand with my back to the water. The steep beach aligns us perfectly as we exchange our first lovely kiss of the visit. It’s just noon local time. We really have arrived.
Our tradition continues with a drive the twenty miles to Lahaina, landing on the seaside terrace at Kimo’s.
We prefer a table right on the rail overhanging the water in the shade and often manage to secure one. When we aren’t successful we have to tamp down our disappointment if, horror of horrors, we have to settle for a table in paradise, one row back. We relax and chat, planning our stay or remembering past stays, admiring the sea and the islands of Lanai and Molokai in the distance.
We have a glass of Prosecco and a few items from the pupu menu, pokey, smoked mackerel or maybe a pulled pork slider or fish taco. We are served by one in an unending stream of twenty something waitress, women who have come to Maui for a time. They come for a season or two, but not many stay. On our last visit, it struck me that the woman who was serving us had not been born the first time I came here, and the waitress from my first trip is now 50 something. But Kimo’s, the view, the menu, have not changed. It feels good to be home.
We finally give into logistics. When I first started coming here, there were almost no mainland chain stores and food, especially mainland brands, was very expensive. In those days there were some things that you could only get in the islands; Hawaiian papayas, Maui potato chips and Lauperts ice cream, which now seem to be everywhere on the mainland. Now all the mainland chains are there and prices have come down dramatically.
We prefer to shop locally, but for staples we go to one of the big grocery stores. There’s a Safeway in Lahaina and a local grocery in Honokowai called Times Supermarket. At the Safeway we can get things we are accustomed to, particularly wine at only a few dollars more per bottle than on the mainland. The store is eerily like any Safeway on the mainland, as if we had been transported back home, except that everybody is in flops and shorts. They do, however have some local items including the CookKwee’s Maui cookies that I am fond of, particularly the white chocolate macadamia nut version.
On my first trip to Maui, I discovered the Honokowai Farmer’s Market, a traveling Farmers Market run by a young couple. They set up in the parking lot in Honokowai on Monday and Wednesday and in Kihei on Tuesday and Thursday. The wife would commonly have her little baby slung over her shoulder as she weighed our produce. It was always crowded and we tried to arrive on Sunday or Tuesday so we could get our fresh produce the first thing the next morning. Some time ago they were able to lease the adjacent shop and are open every day with an expanded offering. But they still do the street market twice a week. I recently asked after her son and she pointed out a tall young man laying out Papayas out front.
They have great local prepared foods, a very good Maui onion salad dressing, the best banana nut bread and an unusual tofu mock chicken salad, which I am addicted to and Susan is not, and plenty of samples. Papaya shopping is their art form. They help us to get papayas that will just be perfect in one, two and three days. We number them. Each morning out on the lanai with our coffee, a slice of banana nut bread and a numbered papaya with a squirt of lime – we start our day.
In Maui style the Honokowai Farmer’s Market doesn’t seem to even have their own website but here is the directory of farmers markets on the Island.
There is only one place where we go for fish, The Fish Market Maui, located right across the street from where we usually stay, and just down the block from the Farmers’ Market.
The market is run by a group of young local fishermen. When they first began, the shop was smaller and didn’t open until the afternoon when they pulled up in their pick-up with big ice chests filled with fish caught that morning. The guy who had caught the fish was serving you. The fish wasn’t just a disjointed piece of meat on the ice; you could see them carving up huge fish in the back.
These days they have expanded. They are open all day, have staff, a wider array of prepared fish dishes and a café/take-out menu that’s very good. They make buckets of Ahi Pokey, lobster salad and ceviche each day. But the fish still comes in fresh that day in the back of the pick-up.
In Oakland we are surrounded by plenty of pretentious coffee purveyors. The home of Pete’s before it was corporate, Blue Bottle, Bicycle coffee, and dozens more. I’m not immune to their charms and need to secure good quality freshly ground strong coffee for our stay. On the way to the Farmers’ Market and the Fish Market, we pass by Java Jazz to indulge the caffeine addiction.
Their coffee is good, but that’s not really why we get our coffee here. The owner, Fazad, an expat Iranian, has created not so much a décor as a personal art piece including walls covered with masses of photos of friends and tourists, trinkets and artwork of all sorts including a series of Barbies in various states of tropical undress and duress, all overseen by a formal portrait of the smiling, be-medaled and de-posed former Shaw of Iran. They do more than coffee, they serve meals all day and often have music in the evenings.
Stocked up with our supplies for at least the next few days, we settle into our condo by about 3 pm.
We have a strong bias. We have never stayed in a hotel on Maui, always a condo, and have never stayed in one of the big tourist areas: Kanapali, Kahana, Wailea, Kapalua, always the areas in-between in smaller condo properties and always oceanfront.
For a time I owned a condo so close to the ocean that you couldn’t hear yourself on the phone. It was close enough that you could toss your empties into the ocean, though I never did that. We stay there now, as renters. It’s still great and I don’t have to worry about fixing the dishwasher or if it’s time to replace the carpet, though it’s overdue.
For me, the place to stay is Honokowai. You won’t see much mention of this area in the tourist books. It is a few miles past the big resorts at Kaanapali. Turn off on Honoapiilini road (Ho no a pi i la ni. Seven syllables. I love that name). This was where the early development in West Maui occurred. From that turnoff there is a five-mile stretch of mostly smaller two, three and four story condominium developments with only a section of unappealing high-rise buildings at Kahana. This ends at the fancy, expensive, and elegant Napili Kai Hotel which looks very nice. Past there is the Kapalua Resort and the too too fancy and more expensive Ritz Carleton Hotel.
If I seem to dismiss the big hotels and resorts, it’s for a reason. You get a choice of Ocean Front, Ocean View (could be just a peek) Garden View or Mountain View. Then there are the Guaranteed Dumpster View rooms.
There is a big hotel in Kanapali that we walk past on the public access path on the way to the Sheraton Black Rock beach. We pass a line of rooms with only a view of the path, no ocean, garden or mountain. Worse, they are at the end a large service yard where they do deliveries and trash collection. I can’t imagine the disappointment at coming to Hawaii, checking in at your hotel lobby, pulling your bags down a long corridor, entering the room and pulling back the drapes on that view. Maybe we are spoiled, but considering all that you spend on the trip, to end up in the middle of the Pacific without a view of the ocean doesn’t seem right. And you can get that view on a budget.
At a big resort even with Ocean Front you can be several hundred yards from the water.
You leave your room, go down a long corridor, down an elevator, through a big lobby, through a garden/pool extravaganza then find your way to the beach. And you are more or less locked into three meals a day at expensive and usually mediocre restaurants.
In the smaller places in Honokowai you’re always much closer to the ocean, can usually find Ocean Front and have a lot more food options. As I write this I am sitting in an oceanfront condo in Honokowai, less than 20’ from the water. I look out on Lanai and Molokai across a channel. This shallow protected channel is the winter home to hundreds of humpback whales, which we can often see from our lanai.
On the other hand many of the big newer hotels have extravagant pools with water slides, grottos and fountains, just what you and, more importantly, your kids may want.
If that’s the case, by all means stay at the big hotel. When my daughter was young, 10 or so, we used to walk into the hotel pool areas and sit down on a chair with an abandoned hotel towel. My daughter was the master at making friends with some of the little kids staying there, sometimes even getting them to take her to the pool desk to get a wristband to prove you were legal. Most other times, she just brazened it out.
Visiting like this is more like living here. We settle in and live here for a short time, go to the market, meet people and watch the sunset. We do some activity or other each time we visit, but that’s not why we come. At home so many things take up our time; even though we are not working, each of us is often going in different directions. Here we can just spend our days together.
If that’s what you want, this is the right place. If you can afford oceanfront, that’s the best. And there’s a wide range of places that qualify, where you can sit on your lanai or stroll just a short distance, and have a glass of wine at sunset. I think the sound of the surf is a remembered pattern of heartbeat. If you can spend your days in its embrace you should count yourself a lucky soul.
On the other hand, if your interests and the state of your relationship aren’t suitable for quiet intimate lolly-gagging alone together or if you have suffered a lapse of good judgment and have brought along your mother-in-law, by all means grab that activity book and have at it.
Living in the land of slow like a local
Stuck in traffic on the way to Paia, we edged forward behind a new Volvo SUV with those little outlined figures on the back window, father, mother, two kids and two dogs and a license plate surround that says “Live Aloha”. Also a sticker that said, in large type, “RELAX”, then in small type, “you ain’t on the mainland”. Susan thought that was hostile. And so maybe touting “the land of slow” is too, just a little. In that same traffic jamb, an old rusted out Honda, cut out of the line, crossed on to the shoulder on the opposite side of the road and drove for over 500 yards against traffic. What was their rush? They were heading to the beach. For a local, that must be what Living Aloha is like.
On Going home
The time has come; you have to leave. Well you don’t actually have to leave. You could tear up your ticket and just stay. Think about it, if only for a second. More than a few people have simply stayed. The second Mrs. Hixson and I came very close to doing just that at thirty. We were visiting friends on Kauai and had offers of jobs. We were quite tempted, but in the end, like most visitors, we decide to go home.
Most often your flight is in mid-afternoon. Don’t try to do anything that day. Leave plenty of time to tank up your rental car and get to the airport. On this last trip, to make up for our tragically forgotten lunch on the outbound flight we stopped at Mama’s Ribs n Rotisserie in the Nipili Shopping Center. We each got an order of chicken and an order of mac salad, of course. At that point we had a mental break and added in an order of ribs to share. We had an insulated shopping bag with some ice in plastic bags, but that simply couldn’t mask the BBQ rib smell, which followed us to the airport and on to the plane. I felt a little self conscious, but when we opened up our spread, passengers and crew alike were impressed.
If you can, make a last stop at that beach by the airport. Then, go and check in, have some lunch at the airport. With our BBQ delight in tow we passed this time. Sit around the waiting room and read. Do whatever you can to bring some piece of the Maui slow back with you. In mid-flight, do the reverse clothing change. It will be cold in the evening when you get home. You don’t have to flaunt your Hawaiian style, just cruise home with some slow.
In the next post “Not Exactly a Tour Guide to Maui” I include recommendations of restaurants and activities.