About Me

Tired of the mundane and craving an adventure, on Saturday, May 22nd, 2010, I embarked on the ultimate American road trip through all fifty states. After nearly a year and a half on the road, on a budget of less than 50 bucks a day, this is my story...

Hawaii, Chapter 4: Stay & Work!

This morning I got my things together and was in the process of checking out, a couple of hours away from my departure back to the mainland, when Laina, working the reception counter, surprisingly asked, "You're leaving already?  Want to stay and work?"  I said heck yes!  After a phone call to my friend Thomas back in Long Beach, California, confirming it would be alright to leave my car in his family's driveway while staying here in Maui for a while, I agreed to work 16 hours a week (housekeeping) in exchange for a bunk in the staff quarters.  I'd train this Wednesday and Thursday, and start first Monday morning, my shift being 9am-1pm, four random days a week, for a month.

The next month was a mix of scrubbing toilets and having fun.  I didn't have my rental car anymore (too expensive), so I relied on the bus and other staff for transportation, which generally worked out fine.  I had a ball bonding with the other staff members and finding my place within them over the course of the next several weeks.  The crew:

Andy (maintenance) & Melanie (housekeeping) - andy stresses, melanie calms
Chase (head housekeeper) - sweet, intuitive, hula-hooping rocker
Émilie (housekeeping) - free-loving, happy-go-lucky hippie
Henry (tour guide) & Brittany (reception) - camera-carrying, karaoke-singing, cool kids
Isaac (tour guide) & Laina (manager) - kept everyone in line, included me in outings
Jason (maintenance) - free-diving, fire-breathing, non-drinking, alaskan wilderness captain
Jeremy (reception) - funny, stoned goofball, said i'm the coolest gay dude he's ever met 
John the gardener - quiet, private, pleasant, snores
Julia (housekeeping) - caring, hard-working zip-lining guide 
Ken (maintenance/reception) & Sarah (reception) - friendly, athletic, strong-minded
Martin (reception) - mysterious Argentinian
Matt (reception) - reminds me of me, only older, thinner, thriftier, drinks more, and straight
Mike (housekeeping) - soft-spoken, wise, always willing to help
Nadine (tour guide) - free-spirited, hula-hooping, life-loving, party animal hippie
Tour guide Mike- from stock broker to surfer dude, got me the job
Tristan (housekeeping) - thoughtful, friendly, will go out of his way for you

Hawaii, Chapter 3: Fun in the Sun!

Baldwin Beach, Maui

Tuesday, November 30th 
Today I checked into Banana Bungalow, an international youth hostel recommended to me by a local.  They offer awesome, free group tours all over Maui, all week long.  I thought this would be a good way to make friends with some fellow travelers, and I wouldn't have to worry anymore about if I'm going to have a place to stay every night.  It's $31 a night for a dorm room with anywhere from 4-6 bunks.  They gave me a key to my dorm room (4 bunks), and a little tour of the small property, which had a pretty cool layout, with a separate lounge building for socializing that included a pool table, foosball table, flat-screen television, kitchen, computers, wi-fi, and staff dorms, and in back of the grounds was a Tropical Garden with Picnic Tables, Hammocks and Seven-Person Jacuzzi Hot-Tub.  Looks like I'm all set :)  I'm all signed up for the group tour tomorrow and can't wait to see what it's like!

Oh, I am SO glad I thought to include ear plugs and blindfolds in my bag!  No, we're not having an earthquake - we have the snorer of the century in our room, lol.

Wednesday, December 1st
At around noon all of us bungalowers piled into the two big passenger vans, and my van got a little overview of the day's activities from our guide, Mike.  First impression: the quintessential, laid-back, tanned, surfer-looking dude, friendly and sociable.

Cliff-jumping off Black Rock!
Today was an all-day tour of west Maui. The tour drove along the western coast to the old whaling town of Lahaina, once the capital of the Kingdom of Hawaii, where we rented snorkeling gear, and headed up to Ka'anapali to snorkel at Black Rock, or "Pu'u Keka'a," a prime place for snorkeling and cliff-jumping at the site of one of the last volcanic eruptions on Maui, which forms a great reef wall, dividing the beaches of Ka'anapali and Kahekili, that front the popular hotel resorts and Whaler's Village mall.  It's a popular tourist destination, but also a sacred place where ancient Hawaiians believed their spirits "jumped off" or left this world to join their ancestors.  The Sheraton Resort hosts a cliff-dive ceremony every evening at sunset, in which a cliff diver lights the torches along the cliff, and dives off of Black Rock in a reenactment of a feat by Maui’s revered King Kahekili.  It's a free show if you're at the beach at sunset ;)
"Honu" (Giant Green Sea Turtle)
The sugary sand of 3-mile-long Ka'anapali Beach has been rated one of the best beaches in the world by numerous travel publications, including Condé Nast magazine, and with the tourist season not quite yet here, I was pleasantly surprised to find it uncrowded.  It was my first time snorkeling, and once I got used to breathing only from my mouth, it was a blast!  The water was crystal clear, and I saw a spotted eagle ray, a plethora of bright, colorful fish, and "Volkswagon," the resident honu (giant green sea turtle) named for his hefty size!  After an eyeful in the warm, tropical waters, I cliff-jumped off Black Rock, and let me tell ya, it's not as easy as it looks when you're up there looking down about 25 feet into clear water, that looks so shallow!

Next we explored the peaceful grounds of the Jodo Mission back in Lahaina, a replica of an authentic Japanese Buddhist Temple, commemorating the first Japanese immigrants. The grounds feature a temple building, a 90-foot-tall tower, a 3,000 pound bell, and an enormous bronze Amida Buddha statue 12 feet high and roughly three and a half tons - the largest of its kind outside Japan.

Then we went over to the touristy Oceanfront area of Lahaina for some free time to browse the shops, art galleries, restaurants and historical sites.  I admired one of the country's largest banyan trees (60' high, with 12 major trunks in addition to a huge core that stretches over a 200-foot area and shades 2/3 of an acre!), and spent the rest of the time strolling down lively Front Street with Nelly, a friendly girl from Germany.

Thursday, December 2nd - First time body-boarding!
This morning the hostel guides took us snorkeling at one of their favorite spots by the Maui Prince hotel beach, in an area known as "Turtle Town."  We walked down to the south end of Maluaka Beach to the rocks at the end of the sand, where the coral reef starts, hopped in, and found a group of turtles within 5 minutes (in addition to many fish).  I'd say I saw about 5 turtles in all!

Next we spent some leisure time at nearby Makena Beach State Park, commonly referred to as "Big Beach," for its "nearly 2/3 of a mile long by 100 yards wide" stretch of sand!  Many of us went over climbed over the volcanic cinder cone hill to the second section of beach, known as "Little Beach," "Hawaii's most famous nude beach (and one of only a handful in the state)." Although technically illegal, it's not enforced. It has better swimming conditions than Big Beach, but no life guard coverage or facilities.  This was my second time at Little Beach; I was here on Sunday for "Hippie Church" with Austin.  With the beach being clothing optional, I'd say the ratio of clothed to unclothed is about 50/50 (tourists vs locals, lollol.  I spent a lot of time in the warm water body-boarding - FUN!  If you want to experience something new (life is short), go here!

The last stop of the day was in the town of Kihei.  I wandered through the large, local handcraft market, checked out the great happy hour and live music at South Shore Tiki Lounge, then joined the rest of the crew at Banana Bungalow's forever favorite, Life's a Beach Restaurant & Bar, loved for its live music and 1-Liter Mai Tai for $6! 

Friday, December 3rd - North Shore
Today's group tour was the north shore area of Paia, a former sugar cane plantation village  turned surfer town of colorful storefronts filled with local art galleries, shopping boutiques, restaurants, and a couple of great beaches within a few miles' distance.  At beautiful Baldwin Beach I watched some surfers, took some snapshots of my new friend Erica from D.C., and did some body-boarding.  Careful of the water's strong under current - my shoulder was sore the next few days!  

I worked up an appetite, so I followed the advice of tour guide Mike, and whether or not it's true that the fish is actually caught fresh the same morning as the day it's served, I no doubt had the best fish I've ever tasted at Paia Fish MarketMy mahi mahi burger which was literally dripping with flavorful juices, was actually worth the wait of the line out the door!

We finished out the day with a visit to Ho'okipa Beach Park, "The Windsurfing Capital of the World," a famous contest venue for two major world-class competitions, to watch the experts in action. 

Saturday, December 4th
Today we were gone hiking all day in the crater of Maui's Haleakala Volcano in Haleakala National Park - at over 10,000 feet high, it's above the clouds!  We left at about 8:30am for the incredible drive up Haleakala, a 37-mile drive up from sea level to the summit, one of the greatest elevation gains in the shortest distance in the world!  We experienced a wide array of climate zones as we passed through pasture land, exotic flower farms, and fragrant pine trees to reach the lava-covered summit.

Then the magic began - a 12-mile hike through the largest dormant volcano in the world!  We started at the Sliding Sands trailhead up at the summit's visitor center, then connected to Halemau'u Trail, lunched at Holua Cabin, and finished at the Halemau'u Trailhead.  From the desert-like landscape on the crater's floor, up to the sub-tropical rain forest, it was stunning.  Notable plant-life sightings included the Haleakala Silversword (found only here, it's one of the rarest plants in the world).  Wildlife encounters included the tenacious Chukar (they nearly hopped into our laps to grab the food from our hands!), and the protective Nene (an endangered goose found only in Hawaii, it's Hawaii's state bird).

I hiked alongside Nick most of the time, a friendly Australian living in Vancouver, B.C.  We got to know each other pretty well, and besides seeing some pretty awesome Hawaiian rainbows and scenery, we bared witness to a rare phenomenon: As we came upon the ledge of a mountainside and peered down the edge of the cliff, we saw my reflection staring back at us on the clouds, manifested as an enormous, magnified shadow, my upper torso centered within two halo-like, rainbow rings of light, my arms distorted as wings!  When tour guide Nadine came to see what all the fuss was about, the image disappeared.  Nick and I explained what we saw, to which Nadine responded, "Dude, you saw your aura!"  The Germans named this phenomenon "Brocken Spectre."  Native Hawaiians have called it "Ho'okuaka," and have likened the experience to seeing one's soul.

After the hike we hopped in the vans and drove over to nearby viewing area of Haleakala Observatories to watch the incredible sunset above the clouds (with the summit being a freezing 30 degrees colder than at sea level, thank god we dressed in layers!), before heading "home" to soothe our aching muscles in the outdoor jacuzzi. 

Fire-dancing at "Little Beach"
Sunday, December 5th
Today we all slept in, and I took my friend Nick into Paia for souvenirs for his girlfriend Rachel, before sadly driving him to the airport.  I went back the bungalow to join the others in taking a day off from hiking and adventure to relax at Makena's "Big Beach," and "Little Beach." "These beaches in southwest Maui are among the most beautiful in the Hawaiian islands. Big Beach is a large, white sand beach with some interesting body surfing. Do be careful of the surf! Many of us went over to Little Beach, which is hidden on the other side of a lava outcropping, and is clothing optional." There were people playing music, dancing, swimming, body-boarding, surfing, and other recreational activities... Our beach day ended with Maui's biggest sunset jam, right on the beach - a drum circle and fire-dancing! 

Monday, December 6th
This morning I and my fellow bungalowers stopped at nearby Kepaniwai Cultural Park, on the way to our tropical forest hike.  "This county park is a memorial to Maui's cultural roots, with picnic facilities and ethnic displays dotting the landscape. Among the displays are an early-Hawaiian hale (meeting house), a New England-style saltbox, a Portuguese-style villa with gardens, and dwellings from such other cultures as China and the Philippines.

Iao Needle
The cultural park was located right next to our destination, Iao Valley State Park, where we enjoyed a beautiful rain forest hike in one of Hawaii's most significant historical sites.  "This peaceful 4,000-acre, 10-mile long park is home to one of Maui's most recognizable landmarks, the 1,200-foot Iao Needle. This iconic green-mantled rock outcropping overlooks Iao stream and is an ideal attraction for easy hiking and sightseeing.

Aside from its natural tropical beautiful, sacred Iao Valley has great historical significance. It was here in 1790 at the Battle of Kepaniwai that King Kamehameha I clashed with Maui's army in his quest to unite the islands. Even with Iao Needle serving as a lookout point, Kamehameha defeated Maui's forces lead by King Kahekili in a ferocious battle that ultimately changed the course of Hawaiian history."

Mmm, Guava
We took the stream-side trail through the lush, tropical forest, up one of the valley walls, reaching a peak with amazing views of the valley overlooking the town of Wailuku.  Whenever we got hungry we just reached out and grabbed a snack from the trees - we tried guava, strawberry guava, kukui nuts, and Hawaiian raspberries!

On the way back down the trail, tour guide Mike told me I should consider a work-trade situation with the bungalow.  He said I'd be a good addition to the team and I'd love it, and that a couple of the staff might possibly be leaving within the coming weeks.

We ended the hike with a swim in the [freezing!] sacred Iao Valley Stream.

When I got back to the bungalow I talked briefly with Laina the manager, expressing my interest in a work-trade with the hostel :)

Tuesday, December 7th
Today while the bungalow was doing its group tour of the Road to Hana, my friends Jason from Alaska (a staff member) and Marie from Montreal did our own version, stopping to do some cool things that the organized tour doesn't offer:
Red Sand Beach
A "Rambo" hike through a thick bamboo forest, (where we tasted fresh coffee beans picked right from the tree!), boulder hopping up streams and rivers, climbing up ladders and ropes, and cliff-jumping
Collected fresh coconuts at Keanae Park
Stopped at a road-side stand for AMAZING fish tacos 
Nearly killed ourselves on the eroded, cliff-side walking trail to Red Sand Beach
Took a dip in Venus Pool, Maui's hidden gem
Got our feet wet at Ohe'o Gulch (aka "Seven Sacred Pools")
Continued driving around the back of the island into "Cowboy Country," and witnessed a spectacular sunset (past Hana the road is restricted by the rental car companies due its ruggedness - parts are unpaved, narrow, with large potholes and no gas stations, but I'm a rebel)


World-Traveling Gnome on Sand Sculpture
Polo Beach - At the recommendation of a friend, I went here one afternoon with a few of my fellow bungalowers, including Marie, a French-Canadian from Quebec.  "A small, uncrowded crescent fronting the Fairmont Kea Lani Resort.  Swimming and snorkeling are great here, and it's a good place to whale-watch.  As at Wailea Beach, private cabanas occupy prime sandy real estate, but there's plenty of room for you and your towel, and even a nice grass picnic area."  I lied under one of the unoccupied cabanas (for hotel guests, hee hee) as if in a quintessential Hawaii, Corona-like commercial, while Marie sunbathed, and the other guys made a sweet sand sculpture for their world-traveling gnome.  Afterward, we met up with the bungalowers on the day's tour at Life's a Beach Restaurant & Bar, for $6 one-liter mai tais and live music from Canadian Idol's Earl Stevenson (made it into top four of season 6 - 2008), who was staying at the bungalow with us.

Rocky Horror Picture Show Party - Today I took my friends Matt the staff (aka, "Matt #1" who put on this party), Marie, Sophie from Denmark, and Henrik from Denmark, to pick up the movie "Rocky Horror Picture Show" (never saw it before) and costume materials from Savers thrift store.  We went back to the bungalow where everyone dressed in drag, watched the movie (it was awesome!), and watched Earl break out his guitar.  I won the costume contest!  Not too bad for my first time in drag, lol - free mai tais the rest of the night, woo-hoo! :)