Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Heaven's Gonna Burn Your Eyes

On Wednesday, we awoke at the ungodly hour of 3:00 am to make the two hour drive to the summit of Mt. Haleakala. Haleakala means “House of the Sun” in Hawaiian and is positioned smack dab in the middle of the island. We were heartened to learn that the volcano last erupted in 1790, earning its now-dormant status. While the drive up was winding, it was not nearly as nerve-wracking as the drive from Christchurch to Akaroa on New Zealand’s South Island (during which Kaberi took a nap while Vik invoked the divine intervention of his ancestors) or the drive up Pike’s Peak in Colorado (which Vik had the “pleasure” of doing in a rental Hyundai).

Vik ferried us up to the top of the mountain, 10,000+ feet above sea level, early enough to find a parking spot and take a breather under the vivid star-filled sky. We’d been forewarned by a number of folks that it would be cold, so we wore all the layers we could – five on top and three on the bottom – and although it felt surreal being so bundled up in paradise, we managed to stay warm in anticipation of a grandiose sunrise.

It was a soulful experience to be above the clouds watching the sun rise from below you. It was almost an otherwordly experience (the top of Haleakala resembled the rocky outcropping of some faroff planet) while we braved the 20 mph winds alongside a few other hardy and well-bundled up souls. All of us enjoyed the good fortune of being up on Haleakala on a very clear day, permitting us to truly observe the majesty and subtlety of the colorful sunrise.

At the visitor information center, we overheard a park ranger say that Maui is actually the result of two volcanic formations (one creating the head of the tortoise and the other creating the body) and that the island is roughly 900,000 years old. Maui’s smaller size relative to Hawaii’s Big Island indicates its older relative age as water has had more time to inexorably erode its borders. At some point in the distant future, Maui will actually cease to exist as it is reclaimed by the ocean. So we’d suggest making your travel plans to visit here relatively soon.

The drive down Haleakala was almost more fun than the drive up as we could actually see the topography change from alpine back to subtropical. Vik was thankful that he couldn’t see what we were driving up in the darkness a few hours earlier. Some of the sheer drops were nerve-racking for those of us with a mild fear of heights. Yet, as we made our way back down slowly in second gear, the vistas that we saw of Maui and the Pacific coastline were spectacular. We had the perfect vantage point to see the ocean, mountains and Maui’s towns in miniature.

We also took some time to do a few of the smaller hikes (the three-day hike was a bit out of our league and attention span). One of the hikes gave us a different view of the 7-mile wide crater itself, which is large enough to swallow all of Manhattan (insert your own joke here). Another hike brought us to a breathtaking lookout point to see the island’s uninhabited coastline unfold below. As the sun continued to rise and we exerted ourselves, we warmed up quickly. In short order, we had stripped off most of our endless North Face layers and worked up a hearty appetite. Our friend Scott (he of the Hai’maile General Store recommendation) had urged us stop at the Kula Lodge on the way down the mountain for their Bananas Foster pancakes. Suffice it to say that we did, much to Kaberi’s delight.

Still being a little sweaty from our time up on Haleakala, we decided to indulge in a post-hike swim. At the recommendation of our waitress, we drove to the pictureseque and velvet-sand beach in front of the Maui Prince Hotel in Makena (about 30 minutes south of Kihei). One of the democratizing aspects of Maui is that all of the beachfront is public property, allowing value investors like the two of us to sun ourselves next to those paying a hefty premium to stay at one of the high-end beach resorts. On this day, the water, which seemed outrageously cold just a day earlier, felt divine. With the mats, umbrellas, and beach chairs provided by our hotel, we were well equipped to lounge the morning away.

In an effort to minimize the cost of our meals and to take advantage of the poolside grill back at the guesthouse, we stopped at the supermarket (which happened to be a Stop ‘N Shop, ironically enough) to see what we could pick up for an early dinner. Instead of grilling, we settled on spicy tuna tartare and diet Cokes and feasted poolside on our cheap eats. We were also fortunate to be steps away from home when the rains came (this was Maui’s rainy season after all) so that we could easily run inside to take cover.

The day ended on a somewhat-ridiculous note when American Airlines called to inform us that the duffle bag lost between Chicago and Los Angeles was now en route to Kahului Airport five days after the fact. As we ruefully reclaimed the 30 pounds of gear that we had just recently made peace with losing, we had to smile at the way life goes sometimes (the emergence of the smiles almost certainly being accelerated by our immediate surroundings).

No comments: