Posts Tagged With: maui

Dark Side of Haleakala Reveals Quirky Maui (discovery)

 

panorama of the dark side of Haleakala near Kaupo

With the sounds of Pink Floyd’s Dark side of the Moon pulsing in my head, I woke up in my tourist condo in Kihei, Maui and shouted out ‘Enough of canned activities from the vendor on the beach. Today is adventure day and I’m going to find it.’  After two relaxing and beatific weeks of hot tubs, drinks with mini-umbrellas, and surfing with the ho-dad (beginner surfer) hordes.  I had to bust out.  I filled up the tank of my rental car at Costco and headed up-country.

Forty-five years of travel vacations gives me some perspective on what I like or not.  I’ve dabbled in various forms in my terminally peripatetic life.  Mostly I prefer new locations that offer some special passion such as last year’s trip to southern Africa where I tapped into my passion for deserts (red dunes of the Namibian desert) and waterfalls (Victoria Falls).  At times I just want to go to tropical islands and relax, ride the waves, drink Mai Tais and chill.  But even a chill out in a very ordinary and predictable place like Maui offers up some edgy adventures in between the surfing, scuba diving, and the, yep, Mai Tais.

Curt is a thinker

C-Dog pondering  Kula’s plants

That day I stretched out of the Maui beach routine.  Getting an early start with my old college buddy, C-Dog, we decided to explore the dark side of Haleakala volcano (dark in the sense that it is much less trampled by the tourist hordes, or so I thought).  We headed up-country (meaning higher elevation on Maui) initially checking out the privately owned Kula Botanical Gardens.  Botanical gardens rank right up there with my passions for hot springs, waterfalls, caves, and deserts.  Kula didn’t disappoint.  Family developed in the seventies, the gardens offer a wide range of plants from all over the world that are commonly grown in Hawaii.  I was surprised that the country of origin is most often South Africa.  When I reported this to a South African friend, he confirmed that most people think plumeria and others are Hawaiian native plants.  Now I understood the acclaimed of the Kirstenbosch National Gardens in Cape Town which I visited in 2014.  Although, a small, 8 acre, property , with a wide mix of plants and the 180 degree view of the island, Kula Gardens qualified this side stop as an adventure.

 

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Old-style sanatorium,  Kula

Prompted by my buddy’s desire to revisit where he had done some medical training back in the 80s, we found another of Maui’s rare gems:  Kula Hospital.  Originally, built in the 1920s as TB sanatorium, it is now a general hospital for the island.  Classic art-deco architecture and original landscaping and old houses gave the impression of old Hawaii.  Except for the modern cars in the parking lot, it could have been 1945.

 

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art gallery cum studio, Kula

 

While getting gas, next to one of Maui’s original coffee houses (Grandma’s) I peeped into an art gallery located in an ancient 1920s building.  But not a typical dolphins on a wave type pervades tourist strips in Kihei or Lahaina, it houses the artist’s studio, his gallery, and his stream of consciousness self-promotion.

Finally, we rolled to Ulupalakua Ranch where a seniors’ motorcycle club had gathered for lunch, next door to MauiWines’ tasting room.  After a couple sips of expensive and too sweet pineapple wine, we headed into the reportedly treacherous road on the leeward side of the mountain.  For the daring (according to the hyper-cautious car rental maps) motorist, it is an alternative route to the famous rain forest haven of Hana.

 

bought a shirt

Kaupo General Store, Maui

Although I’ve been to Maui at least 8 times over the decades, I’d never been to the backside of Haleakala.  Tourist maps make it sound problematic with a long stretch of unpaved, one-lane road.  But instead of drama we were rewarded with big vistas of undeveloped grasslands and lava rocks.  Like a prairie on the moon.  Every so often a ramshackle, half-built house with a satellite antenna popped out of the brush.  I later found out that a lot of the area is Hawaiian Homestead land, where native Hawaiians can live for free.  Out there it felt as distant from civilization as the Navajo Reservation is from Flagstaff, AZ.

Arriving at the end of the paved road at Kaupo, we found the coolest general store on the island.  More than a store with cold beer and drinks, it offers home-made jewelry, and a museum of old stuff like cameras and hair dryers.  Weird but real, and definitely not Lahaina.

While sipping a cold brew on the lanai of the Kaupo store I felt adventurous and satisfied, until van after van of Friendly Isle tour buses rolled by in their packaged tours.  Oh well, I had enjoyed my fantasy escape to the edge of Maui.  Meanwhile, I had to negotiate the one-lane road back to tourist central in Kihei.  Just  another day in tourist paradise, adventure style.  As always, the living the dream means seeking and SEEING the adventures right in front of you.

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Uncovering Maui’s Historic Roots & Hipsters (discovery)

On my recent trip to Maui, driven by curiosity and desire for the authentic,  I explored many nooks and crannies on Maui from Makawao to Paia to Lahaina.  Nowhere could I get a hit of the real and soulful with local vibe and original spirit.  Until I spent a day in Wailuku.  Wailuku is the original town and administrative headquarters on that side of the island and has minimal visitors.  The first time I really visited Wailuku was in 2008, when a friend from college relocated here from Pismo Beach.  I had been coming to Maui for decades, but my previous experiences on Maui, mostly at the nature sites (Haleakala, Hana, Kihei, Little Beach, and Lahaina) had nothing to do with Wailuku.  I stayed at his apartment overlooking the town and discovered it was a normal town with neighborhoods and kids and like my hometown Santa Monica used to be back in the seventies.—an ignored and decrepit historic core (modern euphemism for old part of town).  But now gentrification has hit old Wailuku.

new  arch no bldg in Wailuku

New arch, no building historic Wailuku

 

Gentrification often saves the downtown core of old cities from demolition, including in paradise.  After a four year absence from Maui, I spent a few weeks on island and to my chagrin the beach tourist towns have blown up, just like my home beach town.  As in too much traffic, jaded merchants, and ersatz culture.  But in Wailuku redemption has come.  In 2011 I noticed the seeds had been planted, but now they have sprouted.  The coffee place, the restored movie theatre, the record store, and other shops bustle on Market.  The next street over Central Ave is primping for redevelopment, with  signs announcing restoration of old buildings from the forties.

wailuku bustles at Wailuku coffee

From street people  to stockbrokers, everybody stops at Wailuku Coffee

After several days watching the long lines of rental cars cruising through the tourist strips of Paia, Kihei, and Lahaina, I craved a hit of  the down home and local.  Wailuku called. On my last trip, I spent a whole days at Wailuku Coffee Company and few people would come in.  This year, I sat there for a couple hours and observed a constant stream of customers.  In just two visits, I was able to identify regulars.  I observed several business meetings, mothers with  their kids, and even the local eccentrics.

 

 

chic restaurant next to hostel

chic restaurant next door to hostel in the core

Inspired, I took a walking tour of downtown Wailuku, and discovered a wide-range of new shops catering to various hip or up-scale clientele.  A converted gas station now operates as a metaphysical gem store, whose ethnically mixed, young clerk wore a huge mumu, assisted a young Hawaiian guy buying crystals, while a 80-something white woman in an aloha dress waited.  Across the street an art deco style building housed an attorney, a yoga studio, and a holistic healer.  Rounding the corner, next to a huge parking lot for the municipal bldg. the hostel had a few youthful travelers lounging around. On one side of the hostel a totally vegan store celebrated its health orientation and on the other an upscale, table-cloth restaurant served lunch.  At the prime intersection, Market & Vinyard, a vacant store announced the pending opening of Pono with no clue on its mission.  Across from that corner the venerable Kokopele grill stand with its big yard used for weekly outdoor reggae movies.  In typical island style the stand occupied only one tenth of the lot.

A variety of other health-oriented shops have popped up next to the mysterious Pono.  They boasted a sign indicating no smoking of either kind—tobacco or e-cig.   Walking a couple more blocks down Market, I saw a man about 40 sitting on the sidewalk surrounded by debris of old pineapples.  Wary of being accosted for funds from my years of travel I braced myself, but he simply smiled and said “Hi.”  Even an empty lot had the makings of a re-do with a brand new concrete archway in the Japanese style opening to a barren lot except for a few cement pilings and trash.

Iao Theatre

Built 1933 and posters from  this year, Iao Theatre

As in many historic cores with classic theaters, the Iao Theater from the thirties (official historic landmark) had flyers of past and upcoming concerts from Margaret Cho to the Maui Chamber Orchestra.  Like the enigmatic Bowling Center which is only open for two mornings per week, nothing surprised me in reviving Wailuku.  Across from the heartbeat of Wailuku Coffee Company is Maui Shoe Academy, which deals in shoe repair and specialty footwear.

Further down Market I noted two more hostels, old and basic,  that could’ve been here since 1976, my first visit, but weren’t.  These days globe-trekking young people have a place to land and forage around the magical isle of Maui.  One, The Banana Hostel had a sign that announced that smokers had to stand away from the entrance.  It must be for foreigners, I can’t imagine Americans needing that instruction.

The Wailuku merchants seem to be serious about their revival with a guy sweeping in front of shops on Saturday with a broom and bucket.  Along with the industrious street sweeper, a wacky ‘hapa’ (ethnically mixed) guy lingered around the café for the couple hours I was there.  He flitted from store to café to another store and somehow finally got a couple dollars and waved them around and bought a coffee and salad and asked to sit at my table.  I said, “Sure.”  He then said, “Do you mind if I talk to myself?”  I responded, “No problem.”  He apparently didn’t like that response and promptly left. So, check-check for Wailuku’s harmless, aloha-spirited street guys.

Discovering the ‘new’ Wailuku, confirmed for me the value of keeping an open and curious mind-set while traveling as a counter-balance against the ‘been there, done that’ attitude that can surface later in life.  Even going to super touristy Maui for the umteenth time gave me some  discovery time.   Coming up on LDD:   Adventures in wild cowboy country on  the backside of the volcano.

 

Categories: Discover / Adventure | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Getting Called Out at Little Beach, Maui (creative expression/ community)

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Descent to Little Beach

“Hey man, why you reading the paper?  It’ll bring you down,” said a young man at the weekly celebration at Little Makena Beach on the Hawaiian Island of Maui. Awoken from miasma, his words blasted me back to the present.  I came all the way here from LA, to change my routines and attitude and after only two days, I fell into my pattern from home:  Distracting my ‘here and now’ with reading.  In front of me a crowd of 20 free-spirits danced, drummed, twirled batons and hula hoops and surrounding them a 100+ multi-generational crowd mostly indulged in the clothing optional-custom of this hidden beach.

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Wild ones on the Beach & a stray old hippie

 

My accuser was a skinny guy, about 23, with long, blondish hair wearing a headband and glistening smile.  He moved easily and quickly from one group or individual to another like he was the host of the event.  Of course no one leads this neo-hippie scene, the whole event emerges ad-hoc.  But this man, Joshua, played the maitre de of Little Beach, first drumming, then pulling a six-pack of beer out of a cooler and passing one to whoever he meets, myself included, then stopping for a hit off a joint and talking with a group of three young women, and then prancing down to the beach for a chat with an older guy with a long,  gray beard.  No generation-gap here.

The tropical sun blazed down on the revelers and I desperately sought some shade.  Back home I enjoy hot, sunny days, but this was too much and I hid in the shade of trees on the periphery of the beach.  That’s when the young host zapped me with the lightning bolt—‘Be here now.’

After miles and miles of jumble of big condo developments and tourist shopping centers in Kihei, the road goes through the antiseptic, planned community of Wailea with  its luxury hotel resorts and golf courses and the speed limit ratchets down inexplicably to 20 mph.  Not surprisingly hiding around corners and in  the bushes police wait for the celebrating Little Beachers.  I’ve been coming to Little Beach for decades on my many trips to Maui.  As in most cool places I’ve visited all over the world, the original tip came by word of mouth.  Someone in the tourist center said, “You might like Little Makena Beach.  You get there by driving past the luxury Makena Resort to Makena Beach State Park south of Kihei and park at Makena Beach State Park.”  Makena Beach offers a wide comfortable beach and some basic facilities, but  you have to know that somewhere over a lava outcropping lies a hippie haven.

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Carefully edited view of the Beach

 

Back in the day the original hippies crawled over the rocks and in the secluded cove let go of clothes and inhibitions and ‘cleverly’ named it Little Beach. The word spread and the Sunday afternoon bacchanal grew into a tradition and legend in the hippie world.  Nowadays one sees mostly younger folks like the young man who woke me up that day, but mixed in the crowd are many gray-haired celebrants.

Maui is like that now.  My first visit in 1976 etched the placed in my soul as a tropical idyll.  Beautiful scenery ranges from volcanoes to deserts to rain forest to tourist beaches , while at  the same time it is a typical American small city with all of the conveniences from Home Depot to Costco. But in those days for us Maui was a nature adventure.  A company called Beach Boy Camper Holidays rented converted pick-up trucks that we parked at any beach park and camped for free.  It was the anti-tourist tour of Hawaii.  That freedom of movement combined my priorities, freedom of movement and comfort.  Stop where and when you feel it and relax.  Maybe that underlies the appeal of the RV culture of today, freedom and comfort.

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Firesticks and dancers at sunset

 

Of course, the whole world is a lot more packaged these days.  Finding and participating in the free expression of Little Beach revived the part of me that is still 25. But it is difficult to find, since I just don’t travel in those globe-trotting young peoples’ circles these days.  No hitch-hiking, not much hanging out in bars, and needing a bit more comfort (bed and warm shower).  Stoked I stayed til almost sunset, and as I left groups of people were just arriving with their drums and batons and ice chests.  The night  brings on a wild fire dance I’m told.

On this trip to Maui I had the good fortune to drop into a group of free-spirited young people.  I rented a room via AirBnB, because I wanted to stay in a locals’ neighborhood.  The room and the house provided what I needed, plus the unexpected benefit of hanging with free-spirited youth.  As it happened, the owner was out of town and he had a friend stay to supervise the rooms.

About 24, she quickly invited her new boyfriend to stay.  About 22 with long hair with an occasional penchant for wearing long dresses, he had recently left a work/ stay arrangement at an organic farm and now was looking for work as a waiter.  Another day, a friend of his from home (Grand Rapids, MI) arrived who worked as a tree-cutter.  Finally a third guy who is a medical marijuana care-giver came from Michigan for a short visit.  So, we had an instant communal crash pad, just like I experienced in the seventies.  Someone scored a place to stay in a cool place, and the crew showed up.

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Pondering the ephemeral aspect at Buddhist cemetery

 

Like me, they had come to Maui searching for something different from home and its routines.  My Venice home serves me well, but it gets old after awhile, more so since I jumped out of the rat race.   Some older, retired people share this with young people:  We’re both free of most responsibilities and the adventurous ones break out:  The world calls, wanderlust hits and at the slightest hint or suggestion, it’s off to on a new adventure.  Even in touristy Maui.

Maui hit the spot for an easy break from the mainland routine.  The weather is almost always perfect, spectacular natural sights await, and has all the comforts of home.  For me as an adventure traveler it takes some adjusting, because the edginess that appeals to me is hard to find. But the revelry, expression,  and connection of Little Beach made it for me.  Don’t miss it, even if you weren’t a hippie.  Fun can be infectious.

Categories: Community, Creative Expression | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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