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Sunday, September 21, 2003

Adventures in Paradise

Woof, got in early Friday morning after about 36 hours without sleep. Slept 12 hours Friday night, ten hours last night.

And now for a boring account of our trip.

As I reported before, we were on Maui. I've been to Hawaii several times (always on business---this is the first time I hadn't been on a business trip: it was Niles's business trip), but never to Maui. It's a nice island. The biggest town, Kahului, has a K-Mart and a Borders (and I think a Wal-Mart), plus other big chains. (Yes, this is important.) Yet it's not impossible to find a semi-rural home not far away. This isn't as true on the other islands (except Hawaii). Lanai, Molokai, and (to a large extent) Kauai are very rural, whereas Oahu is basically all Honolulu (except for the North Shore, which I remember being quite a distance from town).

Other than that, I'm having a hard time thinking of something exciting to say about Maui. I went to the Iao Needle. a pointy rock low in the West Maui Mountains. It's very refreshing to go up there after the hot lowlands. (Very mosquito-y, though.) That page loads kind of slow, but it's a very good picture. It's difficult to get good pictures of the Needle, as it's often foggy, and I had to wait quite a while to get any sun on it. When I was there, the cliffs behind the Needle were in shadow, and clouds boiled over their tops, giving the place an especially primeval look.

I went up the volcano Haleakala three times, in all, and it was too cloudy to see the crater each day. A construction worker remembered me from the day before, and said that it was usually "wide open". The second day half the summit was occasionally clear. That day I got a sunburn. I got sunburn in the fog. The third day you could see everything but down into the crater itself. Once, we noticed that Haleakala was so unusually cloud-free that you could see the telescopes on its summit. That was from our plane, waiting to take off for Houston. Of course.

From Maui we went to the island of Lanai (map here). Lanai means "hump" in Hawaiian, and it is indeed hump-shaped. A "lanai" is also the Hawaiian vernacular for a porch or patio. Lanai used to be owned almost entirely by Dole Pineapple, but foreign competition canned the pineapples (har!), and now it's owned by Castle & Cooke, real estate developers. C&C has built two "exclusive" resorts on the island, turning the Pineapple Island into the "Private Island".

So, for 350 smackers per night (for the cheapest room), you can stay at the Lodge at Koele, getting away from everyone---except the 249 other suckers laying down that kind of cash, plus 102 more at the Manele Bay Hotel. Golf is a big deal on Lanai now, with each hotel having a golf course: "The Experience at Koele" and "The Challenge at Manele". (I wonder if there's a big future in thinking up golf course names: "The Epiphany at Pebble Beach", "The Orgasm at Torrey Pines", "Satori at Augusta"...)

Niles and I stayed at the only other hotel on the island, the Hotel Lanai. It was merely expensive, not breathtakingly expensive. It was built in the 1920s as as housing for visiting Dole executives. It's the example of the kind of luxury you have to pay plenty to endure these days. The hotel was beautifully kept up and charmingly decorated, but did not have a TV, air conditioning, fridge, or coffee maker---things that would make Joe Sixpack Tourist reject a much cheaper hotel on Maui (or in Fresno). Normally that would include us, but of course this was different, on Lanai.

We don't golf, so we had to have something else to do. There are only three paved roads on the island, so we rented a jeep to go exploring on the various jeep trails. The jeep came from Dollar, which has a ramshackle office in the island's only gas station. The agent asked Niles, "Redoryellow?" Niles didn't understand he was being asked a question. "What color do you want?" I clarified. He didn't care, so I promptly said, "Yellow." This becomes important later.

Lanai is not your tropical paradise type of Hawaiian island. The ferry from Maui docks at Manele Bay, and the road from there up to Lanai City, in the central part of the island, winds through dry scrubland with few trees. But once you get up in the central plateau (where the pineapples once grew), you see the island's central mountain, which is lush and green, and the zillions of Cook pines (much like Norfolk pines) lining the road and on up the mountain. These are very dark and pointy trees, and they give the center of the island a majestic, even forbidding, look.

The business district of Lanai City consists of four streets around a central park. Almost all the businesses are in ordinary houses, many of which are painted in bright colors. There are something like three groceries (plus the convenience store at the gas station), three cafes (all of which close early), and a few other things. This part of the city is filled with pines.

Our first night we headed toward our point of greatest interest, the Garden of the Gods. This is a very dry area of weird rock formations. Most of them, I'm guessing, were constructed by (recent) homo sapiens. But the scenery is very colorful, and is reminiscent of Death Valley, with splotches of pink, maroon, green, and yellow among the red stones and sand. We passed on at first, planning to get down to Polihua Beach and then back up to the Garden by sunset, when it's most striking.

Polihua is indeed a nice beach, but swimming is discouraged because of strong currents. The striking thing was that there was this huge beach and we were the only ones there. As per the advice on our map, we drove down to one end of the beach track, where we were ATTACKED BY BEES. We pulled up to the end of the road and suddenly there were hundreds---well, dozens---well, a couple dozen---bees swarming about the jeep. We had to pull away and drive to the other end of the road to escape them.

My theory is that they took our yellow jeep for the Great Bee, the God of the Bees, He who is called Buzz, and they came to worship, and perhaps sting to death these infidel defilers inside. Niles thought they were just used to people bearing foodstuffs.

On the way back up to the Garden he said, "Why did you pick yellow for the jeep?" I said, "Er, well, Meryl Yourish has a yellow jeep"---truly, that's the first thing I thought when I saw the yellow jeeps---"and besides, I figured yellow would be easier for other drivers to see."

The next day we went up the Munro Trail, which leads to the top of the central mountain. It's named for "visionary" Kiwi George Munro, who planted the Cook pines. The trail has many great views. Unfortunately, they're all the same great view. Almost immediately on the trail we came upon a swell view of Molokai! Wow! And a little further on there was another terrific view. Of Molokai! And Maui! Cool! "Hey, Niles," I said, "there's a microwave tower above us." "Oh, that's probably the link to Maui...which means there should be a really great view!" And there was! Of Maui!

Occasionally the views of Molokai and Maui would be sprinkled with views of lush green hills covered with pointy pines. There were also some nice flowering plants. I was very surprised to see ohia, the volcano flower. I don't believe I've seen it anywhere other than in Volcanoes National Park, on Hawaii, but then I don't get around that much. It was cloudy at the summit, but on the descent we saw some nice views of the city below. Unfortunately, that's about the variety of views we'd be able to see: city, Molokai, and Maui. Again, very nice, but a bit repetitive.

My main fear was that we'd encounter another jeep on the trail and have to back up to some pullout to let them pass. This never happened. We saw maybe half a dozen other vehicles, but only one came up behind us, and we were already pulled out and we let them pass. Otherwise, we were always at a pullout when someone came by. We were always stopped at a pullout. It took us more than four hours to get through the 2-3 hour trail.

The rental office did not offer insurance, but thoughtfully kept a little photo album full of previous jeep disasters, and the kind of prices they would entail, from extra cleaning ($65) to major dents ($1000) to rolling the jeep ($5500). I am happy to say that we did not get lost or stuck or break ourselves or the jeep. From looking at their photo album, you would think this was little short of a miracle.

The shortest jeep trek was out to see some petroglyphs, which was just "a short walk through the grass" from the road. Well, we got to the petroglyph place and found that a) it was a short vertical ascent through the grass up a hill, and b) the ancient Hawaiians knew Latin letters and naughty words. Hmmm. Turns out the locals (well, presumably) used a nearby non-petroglyph boulder for their graffiti needs. But we found this out because Niles the Intrepid scaled the heights to examine them and found the real petroglyphs. Since I have an unreliable knee, I used my trusty zoom lens to photograph them from the comfort of the jeep.

And that's about it. We could have used another day on Lanai, since there was a couple of things we didn't get to, but only a couple. So why did we go to Lanai, of all places? Because we've already been everywhere else[*]. Lanai was the only one of the islands we hadn't visited. We've done 'em all. No need to go back to Hawaii now!

(Ha ha. Right.)

[*] In a future post we will see that this is not, strictly speaking, true.