Sad but true… I’ve never been interested in seeing Hawaii. Have been seeing all these
gorgeous pics of it since I was little. The Hawaiian Islands became a state in 1959. They always seemed so far out there in the Pacific, so surreal and soft-looking… guess I never really took them seriously. Even after people told me they had just come back from Hawaii and it was incredible, I was still never curious about them. Guess I thought that any kind of Paradisical place of that magnitude must either be less than advertised, or perhaps not really real at all.
And so, as Gomer Pyle used to say, “Surprise, surprise!!” Up jumped an opportunity to fly to Maui last April to attend a friend’s wedding there. I agreed to go, partly because the latest Montana winter had taken something out of me and I wanted to recover; I wanted to feel better; I wanted to actually experience a change of weather… I wanted to be warm again. And if not Hawaii, then where?! So off I went for a week in Maui with my B. Before going, however, I made sure that I wouldn’t have to go hear Don Ho. I needn’t have worried… he died in 2007. I also was not excited about hearing a bunch of hawaiian steel guitar while there… and I didn’t – not even once.
Probably more people think of Hawaii as the consummate “paradise” than any other place. As you know, my concept of Paradise will always be SW Montana… strange as it seems. And, truth be told, we all have our Paradise somewhere, from Hawaii
to the mountains of N. Carolina. I mean, I’ve walked along a Florida beach and had someone smile and say to me, “Another day in paradise, right?” But I think we’d all have to agree that, besides our own personal perception of paradise, the Hawaiian
Islands would have to be considered The Big Kahuna. Let’s see… the classic line of a typical paradise would be something like, “Beautiful waves breaking in on a sunny, sandy beach with a warm breeze rustling the palm trees…” yup. That’s the one
I’ve always heard. And that’s only the beginning of Sugar Beach, on the South side of the Island of Maui.
We rented a condo right on the beach for a week, on the western edge of a linear,
4-mile stretch of town called Kihei. The town, *all* the towns, were fine. Malls,
hotels, motels, what one would expect for a tourist destination. Lahaina is the biggest
and best-known of the Maui towns… upscale and touristy, there is something for
just about everyone in Lahaina.
We watched the fine folk of Kihei ride their cycles, scooters and convertibles around the island… happy enough, but usually on a mission of some sort. You see, this Paradise thing can be tricky. If you live in your Paradise all the time, does it continue to be Paradise? Or does it become simply the place you live? Some of us view our Paradise as an escape from the routine… from the work-a-day world of problems, traffic and stresses. When one brings that crap into their paradise, or does that junk every day in their Paradise, then I begin failing to see the point. Unless one is already looking for, or has found, a new Paradise.
We found the rare, beautiful heart of Maui in two places… on the beach and in a narrow valley between two mountain peaks. The beach was no surprise, but the inland jungle-like forest in the mountains certainly was. The wedding party had an afternoon picnic in this special location, and we were able to learn much about it in an afternoon. The temp was cooler up there, the air was more humid and one could hear the many species of forest birds much more clearly than in the more open country which makes up much of the island.
We discovered that the Chinese worked the sugar cane fields of Maui back in the 1800′s and there were more than 40,000 Chinese laborers on the Island at one time. The Chinese left traces of their culture here in the Western mountains of Maui, and were most proud of their contribution here.
The feel of this mountain place was so special. There was history here, and a timelessness, co-existing as if knowing that all special places hold this seeming contradiction. We were struck with the abiding peacefulness and quiet of it all… this magical forest in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It was a fine afternoon in a fantastic setting we’d not expected to find.
The beach, for me, was exceptional. The water so warm, occasional seals and dolphins rising, sailboats and outriggers in the bay and on the horizon. We loved our morning walks on the beach after coffee. The smell of the ocean, the sound of the surf and that famous breeze in the palm trees was the delicious elixir I had been needing so much. We snorkled and swam several times, always with that delight we felt as children, being knocked around by the waves, and getting our noses full of salt water.
I did have to come face to face with a realization about a prejudice i’ve long held. Having been to a lot of beaches in my lifetime, I have formed this opinion of a certain type of beach walker, those old men with the big bellies who walk down the beach with no shirt and a baseball cap on. I must have thought a hundred times, “Don’t they know how they look? Why on earth would they do that??” The answer is, of course, because they can, and because they simply don’t give a royal shit. How did I finally come upon this small but significant epiphany? Because, the second morning out I suddenly realized I had quietly, somehow, over time, become one of them.
I enjoyed my 69th birthday over there, and it was most memorable. B gave me a sunset cruise, a short 2-hour cruise around the Southwest tip of Maui, with about 25 other people and an open bar.
It was terrific. Maybe a bit windy, as you can tell from the whitecaps in the background of B’s picture, but the food was great, there was a fine jazz guitarist playing and there was this giant glass bowl of ice and big shrimp!! So? Well, just this… I’ve played a ton of parties and receptions in my career, and saw a lot of bowls of shrimp in that time. Now I LOVE fresh shrimp. Occasionally the musicians could walk through the food line on their break and get a plate of food… all except the shrimp. I’ve actually been told to leave the shrimp alone, that they were for the guests. (not the low-life musicians…) I’ve been actually watched by hosts, waiters and managers to make sure i took no shrimp, or only the 3 which were allowed. Ha. Until this night of my birthday on a cruise off Maui. Let me tell you, they had such a bowl of fresh shrimp!! And after my second drink, I hit it. Hard. I had way over a dozen, I had a pile of them! And they were so good! Watching the sunset, listening to the sweet jazz, sitting there eating this fantastic shrimp, with my B just smiling at me… now there, brothers & sisters, is a Paradise you can take home to your momma!
I told B about my sad shrimp saga, and right before they put the food away, she filled another plate with the shrimp and brought it to me… she cleaned them out! I ate every last one of them, too, and loved every bite. I tell you… if you’ve got to have another birthday, and you’re over sixty, I highly recommend the sunset cruise off Maui. And be sure to tip Mitch Kepa, he’s one hell of a good musician. I think he knows I ate his shrimp that evening. And he understood.