When I do get around, I write about it. If you want to read exclusively about my visits to United States presidential sites, you can do that over here.

Travel: Hawaii

My wife and I took a quick trip to Maui in fall 2014. There's more to see in Hawaii, but I'm pretty sure this is the best stuff.


The vague legend of Hawaii, passed down through the generations via the Internet, goes something like this:

Many moons ago the fire goddess Pele was having an argument with her water goddess sister. It was probably over a dude. When two guys fight, they usually knock the **** out of each other and put it behind them. But when ladies get violent, especially over a dude, you should hide. There's an old Hawaiian proverb that applies here: Bitches be crazy.

Pele left her family and tried to build a new home in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. This was a good plan. If you are in fact banging your sister's boyfriend, it's best to do so discreetly at least a few blocks away. But her sister found her new home and decided to trash the place. We're not talking about throwing clothes on the sidewalk and breaking a few dishes -- we're talking about flooding the whole island. It was the geologic equivalent of yanking out handfuls of hair extensions.

Pele made new homes, and her sister destroyed them too. But the battle eventually ended. There are a few explanations for this. Maybe they realized the guy wasn't worth it, or maybe Pele was murdered by her sister and transformed into a being of pure energy more powerful than anyone could have imagined. The important thing to remember is this: At the end of it all, there were numerous volcanic islands growing in the middle of the Pacific.

Brave, seafaring Polynesians discovered and inhabited these islands. Pasty, seafaring Englishmen later discovered the Polynesians and decided they wanted access to their ports, as well as tropical garnishes for the terrible and bitter cocktails served throughout the empire. The United States got in on the action by flagrantly overthrowing the native government around the start of the 20th century. Bloated, land-dwelling Americans now use Hawaii as a vacation destination.

There are five times in your life to visit Hawaii:

1) With your family, as a child. The stress of raising you might compel your parents to vacation in Hawaii. They might take you along, to act as a buffer against the pressure of being romantic 24 hours a day.

2) As a young man. Around age 23, you'll probably want to take your first nice vacation as an adult. Hawaii will be appealing, because it doesn't require a passport, and Sports Illustrated swimsuit models seem to frolic on its beaches regularly. In reality, the average breast size of Hawaiian beachgoers is affected mostly by the fathers from scenario one, but by the time you find that out it's way too late.

3) With your spouse. Hawaii is a fine location for a honeymoon or romantic getaway. The scenery is beautiful, and you'll be too tired from mixed drinks and sun exposure to argue about anything.

4) After a divorce. You definitely want to take your first serious significant other after your divorce to Hawaii, to let yourself know that there still might be magic left in your life. After too many mixed drinks and too much sun exposure, you'll inevitably tell your traveling companion about what a great time you had in Hawaii with your ex-spouse. This will ruin the trip.

5) After giving up on life. After technology makes you expendable at work and your romantic prospects have entirely dried up, you can always move to Hawaii. Then you can be one of the many fine people living on public beaches and in parks, with skin that looks like boot leather, shouting random things about the social issue of your choice.

I've taken care of scenarios one and two, and I hope to avoid four and five. But in October 2014, scenario three became a possibility. My wife works for a comedy club, and some enterprising Hawaiian decided to organize a small comedy festival on Maui. We took a flight on a Wednesday afternoon, changed planes in San Francisco and landed in Maui at 7 p.m. Ordinarily, there's a six-hour time difference between the East Coast and Maui, but one of the planes was showing the first two episodes of "Mulaney" on a loop, so it felt we had been awake since the dawn of time.

Before we get too far into this, let's go over some of the basics about Hawaii:

  • The Hawaiian alphabet has 12 letters. Despite the wide range of consonants, Hawaiians are so relaxed that they use only seven. As the legend goes, the goddess Pele brought all 21 consonants to the middle of ocean, but her sister took 14 of them, threw them in a garbage can with all of Pele's clothes and set them on fire.
  • Life is on "island time." You should try to be punctual for all vacation-related excursions or dinner reservations. But for most interactions with Hawaiian residents, remember that it is socially acceptable for either party to show up 120 minutes late, as long as they flash the shaka sign when they arrive.
  • The weather is weird. When ocean winds hit the mountains of Hawaii, moisture stacks up. Each island has a "wet" side, where it rains every day. There is also an "arid" side where it rains less frequently, and a "hot" side where flaming cinders rain down to indicate the displeasure of the gods.

Also, remember that you're not too good for sunscreen, that too much pineapple will make your gums bleed, that everything cost more because it's imported, and that all the natives secretly hate you for expecting the non-stop Polynesian equivalent of a minstrel show. You'll be fine.

Maui is a great island. It consists of the eroded remains of two dormant volcanos that grew together: Kahalawai in the west and Haleakala to the east. There's a low-lying plain where the volcanos meet, and there are ring roads around each volcano. It has the amenities common to all Hawaiian islands. There are very nice resort hotels on the water. These hotels have excellent pool areas, so that after flying thousands of miles to reach some of the nicest beaches in the world, you never have to set foot on those beaches. You could easily spend your entire vacation at a resort pool, which might in fact be advisable, because you shouldn't be driving after even one Mai Tai.

But I'm a tour guy, and we rented a puke-green Mustang convertible for our vacation. (All rental convertibles in Hawaii have hideous paint jobs, so it's easier for locals to identify tourists with mid-life crises.) Scientists agree that there are four things to do on Maui, and we did three of them in 2014.

The Iao Valley

Most of the surface area in West Maui is economically useless, because it's made of razor-sharp rocks on a 50-degree slope. You can't live on it, you can't farm it, and you can't open a Subway franchise on it. At most, you might be able to do some bare-foot martial arts training on one of the mist-shrouded peaks.

So the practical thing is to look at it. In the Iao Valley, the mountains are green and crinkly. The state has built a nice road that leads right into the heart of the valley, and at the end of that road is a nice parking lot. For $5, you can use it and visit the Iao Valley State Monument.

Most of it is visible from the parking lot. The highlight is an overlook with a nice view of the "Iao Needle," a 1,200-foot rock spire. According to legend (as confirmed by a quick Google search) it is considered the phallic stone of the ocean god Kanaloa. This seems mildly preposterous, as no one living in the ocean would want to deal with the drag generated by boner one-fifth of a mile long. But you have to respect the culture and dutifully praise the awesomeness of the giant rock dong. There was also once a great battle fought here, during the unification of the Hawaiian islands by King Kamehameha. He ultimately defeated the brilliant military strategist who chose to back his troops into a dead end surrounded by 500-foot-tall jagged rock faces.

Beyond that, there are incredibly short trail loops. The state doesn't want you wandering the Iao Valley on foot, because no one wants to pilot the medevac helicopter that gets you out of the Iao Valley. But the parts you can see are very pretty, and it's not that long of a drive to get there. You'll have plenty of time to get back to rum drinks by the pool.

Haleakala National Park

The East Maui volcano is known as the "House of the Sun," and it might shock you to know that there's a vague legend involved. The goddess Hina had some kind of problem where she needed more sunlight. So the demigod Maui -- either her son or her husband -- climbed the volcano, where the sun was known to live in its off hours. In a frightening home invasion, he tied up the sun and made it promise to move more slowly across the sky. Hence, all the days in Hawaii got longer. Maui then ransacked the sun's house for cash, stole the sun's personal electronics and jewelry, fenced everything he could carry and bought drugs. Maui was arrested three months later in a transgender prostitution sting; when they brought him in, they found the moon tied up in his trunk.

Haleakala is a "dormant" volcano -- it hasn't erupted since 1790. But it's not extinct, so it will erupt again once fate is satisfied that enough people are living on its slopes. Until that time, visitors are welcome to drive to the top. The road to the summit starts near the airport, and it climbs 10,000 feet in 38 miles.

Lots of people choose to experience Haleakala at sunrise; you wake up around 3 a.m. and a tour company takes you in a bus to the top, where you can freeze your nuts off -- temperatures at the summit can range from 30 to 80 degrees in a single day. Lots of tour companies will also give you a bike for your descent, so that you can enjoy the relaxing experience of riding the brake for an hour on winding roads with no guardrails while you are groggy from waking up at 3 a.m. It's a perfectly safe activity; the worst thing that could happen is you flying over the edge and tumbling over lava rocks for a few hundred feet.

The much better way to enjoy the road is by driving up it in a puke-green Mustang convertible at 10 a.m. My wife claims she's prone to motion sickness, which means she got to take the wheel. This freed me up for the far more manly activity of looking at the landscape and pointing out rainbows. You drive through a few forests, but for the most part you always have a ridiculous view on one side of the car. The clouds rolled in around 10:30, but thanks to the awesome power of the Mustang we were soon staring at them from above, like gods. GODS, I TELL YOU!

The top of Haleakala is a national park. There's a nice ranger station where they will helpfully tell you how woefully unprepared you are to survive on the mountain. The air is thinner, there's no potable water, there are violent temperature swings, the sunlight is direct and unforgiving, soaking rains can start with no warning and you're technically not supposed to touch anything. Lots of the plants are endangered and if you disturb any of the rocks or cinders it will probably set off the eruption that turns Maui into an apocalyptic hellhole.

So we walked only a mile into the crater. It looks like another planet, and it's remarkably quiet -- the only noise is me droning on endlessly about how quiet it is. It's a truly astounding experience, until you have to turn around and walk uphill in the thin air. At that point, it's mostly an exercise in wishing for death.

The most distinctive living thing on the mountain is the Haleakala silversword, a plant that grows nowhere else in the world. For most of its life it looks like a grey-silver koosh ball, but it can send up a central stalk covered with flowers. At this point, it looks like the plant version of Charro. Just like the real Charro, you can look but not touch, for Charro is precious and rare.

Having absorbed all of nature's glory, we drove back down the mountain and stopped for a late lunch in Paia, a town on the north side of Maui. The waves are better there, and we sat on a public beach to watch people surf with rainbows overhead. Then a man hanging out near a public restroom offered to sell us pot. It was a very authentic day.

Molokini

As the legend goes, the demigod Ahuana grew bored with the pastimes of his mountain home. So he approached Lakanuhi, the charter boat operator of the gods, and requested a diversion that would allow him to both enjoy the ocean and drink Miller Genuine Draft in a consequence-free environment. Lakanuhi took his magical pineapple and threw it mightily into the ocean. Where it landed, a small crater sprang from the sea floor. But it grew so quickly, and Lakanuhi was so drunk on Miller Genuine Draft, that he smashed his boat into it and destroyed one side. The waters and many fish rushed into the opening, and while Lakanuhi was initially planning on developing the crater as an upscale swim-up gentleman's club for the discriminating demigod, he rolled with the punches and invented snorkeling instead.

As advertised, Molokini is a small volcanic crater that pokes just over the surface of the water. Coral reefs formed around its edges, and many fine sea creatures live in those reefs. There are (according to the tour operators) only three other snorkeling spots like it in the world.

If you believe the interwebs, years of chartered snorkeling operations and extensive human visitation have damaged the reefs and scared off a lot of the fish. But at the end of the day, you're still snorkeling in part of an old volcano. I convinced Allyson that this was a good use of our time, and she loves Miller Genuine Draft so much that I didn't have to work that hard at it.

We booked a Sunday morning excursion on the Maui Magic, a fine vessel staffed by guys who seemed to be walking that fine line between suspiciously mellow and competent enough to operate a sailing vessel. They were great. We (and about 23 other people) departed Maalea Harbor at 7:30 a.m. They took us along the coasts of southwest East Maui, to look at some of the beaches and the "youngest" lava flows. We encountered a pod of dolphins, who actually do Sea World-quality tricks with no prompting or rewards. They just play around the boat for the heck of it.

When we got to Molokini, the number of fish was unremarkable, but you could see forever. I spotted an octopus, and I swallowed only about one pint of ocean water. They took us to second reef nearby, where sea turtles often hang out. Allyson saw one, but I was floating off in a corner by myself and missed it. The crew cooked us a BBQ lunch. I had the traditional Hawaiian meal of a cheeseburger topped with a filleted hot dog, pineapple and barbeque sauce. We were back in port by 1 p.m. It was a fine morning. No one got sunburned, no one threw up, we saw some sea critters, and there were Miller Genuine Drafts for all.



One man's quest to be the humblest person alive
Copyright 2014, Chris White