I don’t think I’ve ever been less prepared for a trip than I was for my recent escapades to the wonderful island of Maui, HI. It wasn’t through choice or even laziness; it all just crept up on me. So, it was Friday afternoon that I was in the pub with some work colleagues celebrating the end of another half term, when it sharply dawned on me that I should probably attempt some packing.
Whizz forward a few hours (which were spent drinking free wine after running into a bartending mate, dancing to G’n'R, sticking passport photos of an old man around a bar and hearing some sad news), and there I was on the way to the airport with a very hungover and equally tired brother of mine. If you ignore the fact that my backpack got left in LA and the in-flight entertainment left a lot to be desired, I’d consider my journey into Kahului a successful one. I sat next to a lung doctor from Missouri and we chatted for 6 hours about Harley Davidsons, his mother’s dementia and the differences between medical services in the UK and USA. Who needs inflight entertainment?!
It didn’t matter that my backpack had missed its flight, it turned out. Having met up with Carrie – my long lost Pennsylvanian travel buddy from Indonesia ’06 and USA Roadtrip ’07 – I was informed that we’d be spending the next day on a nudist beach anyway. Somehow, this didn’t do much to relieve me.
Carrie had travelled to Thailand before I met her in Bali, and whilst she browsed through dresses or held yoga poses (I imagine anyway), she came across Geoff. Geoff has lived on Maui for six years and proved to be the perfect guide. More on that later. Also joining the gang was the newly-pregnant dance teacher Danielle and her husband Scott – a Brit-loving(!), Hip-Hop musician. Both were vegans, which was something I had only experienced once before in the form of a weirdly tall Maine native whom I met in Flagstaff, AZ. Thankfully though, throughout the course of the week, I learnt that Veganism isn’t just a massive bowl of bland salsa and raw potatoes. Also in the line up was Katja, Ross and their baby Phineas. Katja had used to live on the island and was a friend of Geoff’s. The three of them were out in Maui for a month’s break. Enough of the introductions though. We headed towards Huelo, followed some winding tracks and eventually pulled up outside Geoff’s place.
In my lack of preparation, I also hadn’t considered at all where I’d be sleeping for the week. Yes, Geoff had invited us all to stay at his abode, but I had assumed it’d be one of somewhat more traditional ilk than it turned out to be… Hidden amongst vast amounts of luscious land was his place – a simple timber structure with mosquito nets at the open windows, with a large bed and futon inside; the kitchen was completely outside on the decking – fridge, dining table, sofa. At the end of the garden tucked away behind bushes was the outdoor solar powered shower. That’s right, you stand on the grass, in the open, sun beating down, and shower… The outhouse was over to the right. Kayaks and surfboards were stacked up against the side. It was incredible! The whole setup was run by solar power and on limited water supplies, collected from the rain. I fell in love with the place immediately!
Now I was in the company of a half-vegetarian, half-vegan crew, I had to leave behind my home habits of having a bag of marshmallows for dinner. Danielle and Carrie cooked up a feast of cous cous, tofu and steamed veggies before we hit our respective sleeping spots. Somehow I had blagged the double bed whilst Scott and Danielle shared the futon and Carrie and Geoff took to a tent.
There’s something pretty magical about getting close to nature without their being a tour guide or glass screen in the way. It seemed that over the course of the week, Geoff’s ambition was to act as a magician. Sunday morning, we took the truck, the Merc, four kayaks and a cooler of food to Grandma’s Beach, picking up an aging but remarkably fit-looking hitchhiker on the way, and meeting up with another of Geoff’s buddies who was a medicinal maijuana activist (is that the right word?). It was whale season and having paddled out into the ocean, we didn’t have to wait long before the huge animals started flipping themseves out of the water and crashing down right in front of us! They swam within feet of us! About a mile from the shoreline and utterly alone, it was thoroughly awesome to be in such close proximity to such massive creatures!
Without capsizing, I made it back to the shore and we headed for Big Beach/Little Beach. Little Beach was the nudist spot. I have to say, I didn’t have any first hand experience of nude beaches before but Little Beach exceeded a expectations. I was suprised – yet relieved, in my prudish British way – that nakedness was, in fact, optional. Plenty of people were full or partly dressed, but the ones who weren’t made sure everyone else knew about it! One man with a particularly shiny head and equally small man-parts jigged around in the ocean froth with all the enthusiasm of an MDMA addict in E1 on a Friday night. Many overstuffed couples proudly meandered across the beachfront giving me a glance of middle-age life, and the view of numerous sagging breasts gave me a renewed appreciation of my own pert ones (if I do say so myself!) At the back of the beach, people sprawled, hung and draped themselves on a humongous tree in front of which a djembe drumming group had started an improvised performance. As the sun went down, the spirits got higher. And as night fell, light grew as naked fire dancers hula’d burning rings around their waists.
Danielle and Scott were considering moving to Maui, so the following day Geoff gave us a tour of the land he lived on and introduced us to the guy who owned it, Jim. Jim was an elderly man who wore beige slacks, a white dreadlocked beard and nothing else. When I was younger, I was a keen reader of Enid Blyton’s ‘acid stories’ – you know, the ones about knocking on a tree and a family of otters trying to sell you magic apples from a basket made of sheepskin and fairy dust. Jim belongs in one of these stories. In his house (a shelter made of every possibe material you can think of, backed by a wooden structure built high up in a thick-trunked tree), we sat on the back seat moulding which had been ripped out of a car and he recalled a time when, in 1979, he and a group of like-minded fellows had taken a boat of some sorts through the River Thames and demanded the London Bridge be opened for them. Apparently, their wish was granted. How times have changed; I now have to pay a fiver every time I drive my perfectly legal, taxed and insured 1.3L car on regular roads in the city…
Carrie and I spent some quality time chilling in Paia, browsing the indie shops and filling up on nachos. I grabbed the fattest, bloodiest burger I could but never got round the finishing it, then the group reconvened for a evening of live music in Café Moana where an odd Oriental girl with a ukelele and hairy legs impressed all with her voice but scared me slightly with the Radiohead covers, and a Bluegrass quartet with a combined age of about 300 years jumped about the restaurant singing in perfect harmony fitting in virtuoso solos on every stringed instrument they could find.
Wednesday saw the eight of us pile Geoff’s truck as high as possible with food, warm clothes, hiking gear, and..well, ourselves. With Geoff, Danielle, Katja and Phineas in the front, Scott, Carrie, Ross and I in the back, we headed south to Haleakala National Park then started the winding ascent up to 10,000ft. About two thirds of the way up, Scott – quite understandably – was overcome with travel sickness and took to the driving seat with Geoff subbing the back seat. I was also feeling the sickness, but ignored it in favour of giggling.
Trekking into the crater was described by nearly everyone at one point or other “like walking on the moon”. Vast, desolate, empty, we were above the clouds. We stopped to eat and get merry before the journey back up. With sun blazing in my eyes coupled with the ‘merriness’ and altitude, dizziness struck. Everything went black, but I carried on walking. The last time that happened to me was at Stefan’s house at Brick Lane and resulted in a very large bruise on my head as well as two extremely stunned housemates. However, I arrived at the summit injure-less (is there a better word for it than that?). We watched the moon eclipse, the sun set and got bloody cold! It was so romantic!
The night was young, and our band of merrie men was game for more. A bonfire on a beach sounded like a perfect idea!! Let’s call the next hour or two, ‘an adventure’! We drove and drove and drove! We drove on fast roads, then we turned down small roads. They got smaller and smaller. And even smaller. These were no longer roads! No one else was around. The sky was black, the truck was a little rickety for me to deal with at that time, the headlights only highlighted the fact that the rad we were going down just got darker and smaller, and I had The Fear! A turned-over burnt-out car in the greenery didn’t help alleviate my suspicions that we were soon to be driving to a gruesome and grizzly end.
We didn’t though. We did have to do a 33-point turn at a particularly narrow point, retrace our steps and drive a lot further. But there was no gruesomeness; no grizzliness. We arrived at a black sand beach, built a fire, and enjoyed the rest of the night…
Our little roadtrip to Hana on the south westerly point of the island was broken up with stops at beautiful waterfalls, awesome views and roadside shacks selling coconuts, banana bread, sugar canes and giving mosquito bites away for free.. We reached the Red Sands beach, and climbed/walked/tripped around and down the side of the cliff. Made of volcanic rocks, the red sands supposedly have healing qualities. Given that I slid down one part of the track and embedded two handfuls of gravel and cinder in my left shin, I found this news to be hugely positive (although all the talk of staff virus quite diminshed that!) We camped out in the national park, eating BBQ’d veggies. The following morning, one of the new additions to the crew – a 52yr old marine biologist called Hannah – and I took a stroll down to yet more waterfalls and flowing lakes where we took our morning showers!
‘Do something that scares you every day,’ I remember being told once. Using an outdoor solar shower might be one of those things. Kayaking out into the ocean to sit in a very unstable plastic container mere yards from mammals fifty times the size of myself could be another example. Climbing up rocks to throw myself into 30ft deep waters below is definitely another. And that was the challenge for me today. Bear in mind, dear adventurous types, I am a Londoner. I may like to think I am an outdoorsy person - and I certainly wish I was – but, as yet, I’m still in training. I don’t understand nature. A dangerous trip for me is taking the East London Line after 9pm (not now they’ve closed it though, fuck the Tube..) Jumping into water is simply unheard of in my country, unless it’s heavily chlorinated or you’re wearing the aquatic equivelent of a spacesuit. To understate, it took a ridiculous amount of encouragement, but before we left Venus Pools, I was hurling myself off rocks into the fish-infested (haha!) waters below!
Our last night together, a sad time. It’s funny how, when you travel, you gel with people so quickly. And more often than not – at least in my experience – it’s usually with people who on first contact you’d assume no common ground. With the eight of us packing/unpacking/repacking/showering/tidying/dancing around Geoff’s place, Friday night was pretty buzzy. Danielle and Scott had an evening flight, so we took dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant where we were served by a man with very well coiffeured hair. He told us he spent 30minutes styling it every day. Between airport runs and taking Ross and Katja’s hire car back, I enjoyed my final ride in the back of the truck, which I had grown very fond of. Some dancing on the ceiling later, and I was back at Geoff’s. Whilst everyone else was sensible enough to catch as much sleep as was going (my flight required a 4am start for us all!), I decided that staying awake would be entirely beneficial to ensure slumber on the fights home (how wrong I was, I’d later realise..!) Ross tried to explain about constellations, but I got confused, being the other side of the world an’ all. At 2am, I gave in and slept…
Flight number 1 – Maui to Honolulu – was great! Just one short hour with a Clif bar and a Californian engineering student called Preston who was returning to school after his sister’s wedding. Flight number 2 was horrific. Six hours to LA in the aisle seat with two overweight social workers who required me to get out my seat every 20 minutes of so. You can imagine my…annoyance.. A three hour layover in LAX allowed me to expand my list of books to buy, before being offered a large range of sleeping pills by a very odd waitress. Needless to say, by that point, sleeping pills were completely unecessary…
QUOTES DU SEMAINE (because they always make me laugh)
- Neil Young? Imagine that!
- All we need is crackers!
- A very subtle flow…
- Poking issues. Ah, poking… I’ve got a good poking stick.
- Y’know some men will resort to poking strange things on occasion…
- OMG!! Is that real? Or is that cool?
- It chinked ofd my beer, NOW it’s serious!
- Knock three times if you feel sick, or knock twice if you want to pass the bowl!
- I mean, we don’t have deer here, but I could hit inanimate objects just as easily..