|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!|
|"Honu" (Giant Green Sea Turtle)|
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 Market. My 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"|
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.
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."
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:
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
Red Sand Beach
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|