Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Hawaii Chronicles

During this slight lapse in the film festival season, I'll fill it with a recap of my little journey with Gretchen to Hawaii, er, I mean, Hawai'i. (Maxxxxx was sent to Birdie Boarding School for the week and has yet to comment upon my return, my semi-tan or upon the little souvenir keychains I brought back for him. This is called 'Peeved Silence.')

Here follows a Table of Contents, or you can just keep scrolling down:

Day 1: Upgraded; The Condo; The Ritz-Carlton Pool; Mai Tais and Tacos.
Day 2: Beachcombing with the Crabs, Snails, and Cardinals, Oh My!; The Cabana, Pool Boys and Girls, Oh My!; a Pub.
Day 3: Upcountry Drive; The Winery; More Driving; Lost into Makawao; Rush Hour to a Luau at Lahaina.
Day 4: Snorkel Clinic, Pool and Spa Day, Oh yessss!; The Shops at Wailea.
Day 5: Spinning Dolphin Newsbreak; Jay Swims with the Fishes and Lives; Broker Boy at the Hula Grill; Poolside Cocktail Confusion; Movie and Taco Night.
Day 6: Another Beach; Another Poolside Cocktail; Another Shopping Trip at Lahaina and the Parade of Canoes; China Boat Virgins.
Day 7: Swimming with Turtles, Triggerfish and Dolphins, Oh My!; A Pub Revisited.
Day 8: Checking Out; Checking Out an Aquarium; Nature's Phallus; Killing Time till United Check-In.

Appendix A: Gretchen's Photo Journal
Appendix B: A Few More Snorkel Pics

(Clicking on the pix will bring them to 'full size')

I have known Gretchen since working at Bank of America fourteen years ago. (I am no longer there, though she is, albeit one of the few from those long ago days.) She has been to Hawaii around a dozen times and has been on my case to get out there. In the midst of 'chemo-brain' (which is another story entirely), I finally agreed that it would be a great trip to celebrate the end of all of that before going back to work. This was to be in November. Well, complications being what they are, I'm stuck in this for another 2-3 years (though a much EASIER regimen, which is yet another story - GAWD!), so we decided to just GO AHEAD and schedule this between cycles this spring. Between Gretchen's stressed out job and my film festival schedule (which is sort of a job these days), we found a last minute window the week before Memorial Day in which to embark.

Day 1
Gretchen and I, coming from Oakland and San Francisco respectively, agreed to meet in front of the First Class Check-in at United, in SFO, at 7:00 a.m. As we continued the check-in process, we found at the gate that our wait listed seats for first class came through! Woo hoo! Sometimes being a United Mileage Plus Whore can be a good thing! Mind you, first class to Hawaii doesn't seem to be as outrageous as I had hoped, but being greeted with mai tais before take-off was quite appreciated. (Hey! It's sort of a fruit drink at 9:00 a.m.!) The meal was fine, if not unmemorable, the movie was terrible ("Hoodwinked!"), so I tried to nap as much as possible.

Upon landing at Kahului airport in Maui, we grabbed what seemed like DOZENS of brochures, etc. to see how we might fill our week, grabbed the rental car and started off! First impression was that this is, indeed, paradise! The weather was perfect! There is greenery EVERYWHERE! And everyone sems to be happy to be there - natives and visitors alike!

We made our way to the Kapalua Villas where we would be staying for the week, fully prepared for the fact that we were four hours early for check-in. Ah well. We killed sometime at the Pineapple Grill overlooking the valley and some tennis courts for lunch, less the expected rounds of mai tais. We shopped a bit at the Kapalua Shops, were I officially began my Christmas shopping! Oh yessssss...

We made our way to our appointed spot (condo 21-G4), only to find that we were given the wrong keys. After about a half hour of confusion, we finally, entered and... I was absolutely taken aback by the view! We were oceanside and it was stunning! The place itself was fairly large - a one bedroom, HUGE bathroom, large living room (with a sofa sleeper, where I would be) and an ok sized kitchen and dining room. But it was the lanai that was incredible and a terrible temptation to never leave the place! However, we dropped our bags, changed clothes and headed immediately to the Ritz-Carlton, where we have signing privileges via the Villas! The mai tais began flowing there. Oh yessss... And lava flows, too. A not so quick dip in the pool and hot tub and we were ready for MORE food! Plus some grocery shopping, conveniently located next to a Maui Tacos! Oh, these were yummy. Well that was enough for Day 1.

(an embarrassing shot of 'closet appropriations'.)

Day 2
After attempting beauty, aka shower, etc. (oh! I need to mention the Kapalua coconut shampoo, mango conditioner and vanilla soap: I smelled like smoothie after every shower!), we traipsed past a half dozen ginormous snails (which would never be seen again, oddly enough) and a cute couple of Hawaiian Red Heads (or cardinals?) on the lanai (which were preferred way above the pigeons and minas that would hunt us down throughout the week) and wandered down to the beach for some beach combing and tidepool hunting, where we found various shadow crabs, little minnows and this big nasty red crab. That was our nature fix for the day before going poolside at the Ritz-Carlton, where all forms of UNnatural beauty would occur. Gretchen generously rented a cabana for the day ("I need this vacation and it's your first time here, so I'm splurging on this!"), which came with a cooler of sodas, water and a pineapple plate. We didn't stop there, of course, as the mait tais and lava flows continued to flow. We spent the ENTIRE DAY poolside, being served, dipping, swimming and remarking upon our fellow travelers. There was HOT model boy, whom I attempted to camera-photo, but felt like a dirty old man about that. There was ex-police officer guy and his new best friend, beefy marine guy, who were extremely talkative, to the point of boring their girlfriends. Then there was Ms. Ritz-Carlton 2006. Let's start with her breasts, as those were the largest and most noticeable physical trait, made only MORE noticable by the shiney silver bikini that was stretched over them. I am sure they were abvoisly fake. Once that was verbally noted to Gretchen, we proceeded to make a shopping list of what she had surgically done, and whether her boyfriend (who was at LEAST 20 years older) paid for it. Come to find out, as they were dipping around, we eavesdropped to hear that they were newlyweds from Las Vegas (I don't remember the hotel) and make their home in Sonoma. Total stereotypes and annoying. I didn't get pictures of them, as they were way too conscious of being looked at.

The day drifted on and we eventually de-pooled and proceded to the Maui Brewing Company for dinner, which featured this fish called 'ono' which was amazing, as well as a gorgeous and totally hunky and hot manager (pictured here - the guy on the right!). Oh yessssss...

Day 3
Today we decided to go 'upcountry' and visit the Maui Winery and Surfing Goat Cheese Diary, before our Luau that evening. This entailed a LOT of driving and some time management, as a luau is not something to be frivolously missed. (We were LUCKY to get a reservation due to last minute cancellations!) Thus began our "Amazing Race" day, in which the first task was to find the Maui Winery in Ulupalakua Ranch. It was a gorgeous drive up and though we were too late for a tour, the tastings of the pineapple wines were enough. We came back with a carry-on box of bottles. Oh yesssss...

Our next 'roadblock' on our "Amazing Race" was to find the Surfing Goat Cheese Diary. Now, here's were we mucked it up. We should have asked directions. However, we drive relentlessly on, keeping an eye out for goats on one side of the road, while gasping at the vistas of Molokini on the other. In the end, we sort of got lost. "Sort of?" you say? Ok. We gave up on finding goats and just wanted to find a town that was on the map, namely Makawao, which has the historical significance of being sort of the 'cow town' of the island as it is the center of where the LARGEST open range beef operation in the world is located. (Yes, oddly enough!) It is sort of hard to explain the puzzlement we experienced as we drove into the middle of the little town, considering that we didn't even know we were on the right road. It just sort of 'appeared' out of no where! There was some shopping to be had here.

We then began the trek to the 'pit stop' of our "Amazing Race," Lahaina for our luau. Here is another difficult to describe moment as we ran into RUSH HOUR, aka 'pau hana'. On one hand the charm of Maui is how it hasn't completely succumbed to over-development. On the other hand, having a two lane highway running the length of the island just doesn't cut it. It took nearly an hour to cover less than 20 miles.

We did manage to make it to the Old Lahaina Luau, which exceeded my jaded expectations. Yeah, it's a bit of dinner theatre with a beach side twist. However, being greeted with mai tais while waiting in line to ENTER was the first sign that this was something special. (Am I that easily impressed with 'free' booze? Curious minds want to know...) There is an open bar, followed by the 'Ceremony of the Pig' or something to that effect, when they dig out the pig that has been roasting underground all day. (It was here that we witnessed the only true ugly tourist moment, as a 6'5" guy not only refused to allow an elderly 5" woman in front of him to see this, but then had the nerve to approach her after it to tell her to get there sooner the next time! GAWD!!!) We sat on the astro-turfed ground with 6 others and began the buffet. Oh! Did I mention that it is Hawai'ian tradition that women were NOT allowed to serve or cook the feasts? Yes, this meant that we were waited upon by boys. Lots of 'em! All studly and tanned after spending the day surfing, one imagines. But back to the food and drinks. YUMMY! And all you can eat, though as those of you who know me might expect, I only needed ONE pass at the buffet. After dinner was finished, the 'show' began. Lots of assumably traditional hula described the history of the islands, from their discovery to the present day. These were danced in assumably traditional and fairly accurate costumes. In other words, though the women covered their breasts (which is probably NOT traditional), the boys only had dance belts on, which meant that there were flashes of bum! Oh yesssss... Dessert is served in the midst of this and it ends on a slightly cheesey note as couples are asked to dance on the beach. However, it was an overall impressive evening! (Thank you to Gretchen, as this was my birthday present!)

Day 4
This was something of a work day: we were filled with purpose! To begin, I was to take a 9 a.m. snorkel clinic at the Ritz-Carlton pool. A Hot Snorkel Daddy got me into the gear, had me plop into the pool and 'swim' around, which isn't really swimming, but sort of a propelled floating, which is what I do best. No, I can not swim, much less tread water, but with an 'air hose' connected to me, I was a FISH! Yes, I was! I was ready for REAL snorkelling later that week. So I thought. Gretchen discreetly went to a different part of the pool area (there are sort of 3 pools connected to each other), so as not watch me make a potential fool out of myself. I met her at the other pool, where we killed time before our Spa Day began.

Gretchen chose the Lomilomi Massage which includes hot stones. I settled with a 'simple' scalp and foot massage, which ended up involving two therapists at once and in the outdoor bungalow! woo hoo! The spa facility was just fabulously furnished and if I had the guts, I would have attempted to leave with one of the robes. But that would be tempting bad karma, I think.

After that, we had a LIGHT lunch (so light, I don't even remember it) and started our way to the Shops at Wailea, where I promptly blacked out and completed a nice portion of Christmas and birthday shopping! We had intended to be there for "Wednesday at Wailea" which is sort of an art open house, however, we were too distracted by merchandise and the need to feed at Cheeseburgers, Mai Tais and Rock and Roll, which I could have sworn was actually more simply called "Cheeseburgers the Pacific Way" but anyway... It was a 'five napkin burger'! Yummmm!!

Day 5
We began this morning like any other: a light in-condo breakfast and attempts at beauty. I also had the annoying habit of text-messaging a couple of friends regarding how taxing being poolside can be. [insert evil snicker] It only served me right to have a 'back to the real world' reply, but it was concerning the Ken Lay verdicts. I was able to text back that the spinning dolphins we could see from our lanai had already told us this. [insert more snide and evil snickers] The dolphins. There were a LOT of them! In fact, by the end of the week they were almost passe'. Due to their incredibly quick breach-spin-n-dive time, I was unable to get a good shot of the spinning dolphin phenomenom. So, you're just going to have to believe me!

After our spinning dolphin newsbreak, we stopped at Snorkel Bob's to rent snorkel gear as this was my big day to swim with the fishes, as it were. Snorkel Bob's 'corporate identity' is a HOOT! Though you feel as if Snorkel Bob is speaking directly to you in his guides and literature, you do realize that it's a fairly large chain in Hawaii and beyond. Our first choice of beach to snorkel was to be Napili, but we ended up going to Ka'anapali, and more specifically, Black Rock. This was referred by Rick in Atlanta as one of the hottest people watching spots on Maui. Well, indeed it was! There were a LOT of people at this length of beach! So it was with a bit of intimidation that I suited up in my snorkel stuff, including a little life jacket, to toss myself in the surf that was pounding against Black Rock. But toss myself in, I did! The experience was not all that traumatic, actually. I was in for at least a half hour, by which time bumping into other people and trying to keep from being dashed upon the rocks by the surf took it's toll and I simply had to get out of there, lay on the beach and dry off as Gretchen "Balsa Wood" Breiling continued her Little Mermaid act and bobbed around the point of Black Rock into the more treacherous waters before coming back tor report her sitings. Yes, you do detect a bit of envy, as we had spent the week with her trying to teach me some swiming pointers, where it was obvious that we were completely different mammals in the way that dophins are different from humans. She floats like a bouy. It's not fair. However, so encouraged was Gretchen by my apparent enthusiasm , or at least being a trooper about diving into water that is more than 6 feet deep, that she booked a sail and snorkel trip for Saturday.

Anyway, as the late morning wore on the beach became increasingly crowded, so we made our way to lunch at Hula Grill. Now, I find this little stop worth mentioning as we were served by my future husband, Jeremy. Jeremy is a 6'4" blond beach god from Long Island, where he is returning in a couple of weeks to begin working for Merrill Lynch as a broker. With this information, I should be able to stalk him and make him MINE! Bwahahahaha! Unfortunately, as he could be considered 'seasonal labor' there are no photos of him available, and I did not take any as that would either blow my cover as his personal stalker or make me out to be a desperate and lecherous old man. I did fall under his flirtatious charms and ordered a second round of an unnecessary cocktail. It was at this point that I realized I had drank more rum in one week that in the past decade. I was beginning to hit a rum wall!

This fact would only be reinforced by our afternoon poolside experience at the Ritz-Carlton later that afternoon. A LARGE conference of Wachovia Bank sales people began to arrive starting Thursday, which seemed to have caught the poolside service by surprise, as our pool-girl had to make three trips to get our drink order right. (Banana (me) and Chocolate (Gretchen) Rum smoothies.) She was soooo completely embarrassed by her flubs that she would end up comping us when we ran into her later that week. Sweet thing!

At this point, eating out was getting to be expensive and tiring, so we stopped at Maui Tacos again for take out and headed back to the condo to watch "The Producers" which I had brought with me.

Day 6
We began our next day by exploring a 'new' beach to Gretchen: DT Fleming Beach, which is most easily accessible through the Ritz-Carlton resort, though like ALL beaches in Hawaii, is open to the public. The Ritz had a nice little beachside set up of chairs and beach side service. We took advantage of the chairs, but saved the service for poolside. (There was a slight altercation between Gretchen and the cabana boy on duty about the availability of towels to non-Ritz guests. Gretchen won, of course!) The surf at Fleming is pretty intense: perfect for boogie boarders and body surfers, but a bit too much for waders. That only made it more exciting as I was being hit by 8+ foot swells! All my poolside experience and moment of snorkeling with the fishes had started to go to my head! Plus it was sort of good practice to prepare for the boat snorkel, I thought. Beachside, I made a new friend with a gecko that spent at least 20 minutes just staring at me from a tree.

When we finished with our traipsing in DT Fleming beach, we climbed the hill back onto poolside at the Ritz, where we had MORE cocktails and lunch! This is where our ashamed cabana girl insisted on covering our bill, since I had insisted on tipping her the other day when she screwed up and didn't even return with a bill, as she didn't want to be tipped to begin with. Such a sweet girl!

After lunch, we proceeded back to Lahaina, as this was the week of the International Festival of Canoes, and this was the day of the 'Parade of Canoes' which the teams had been spending the week carving. Now, a moment about Lahaina. It was suggested by Rick of Atlanta that Lahaina was the Maui equivalent of Sausalito, to which Gretchen replied, "So? What's his point?" Sausalito is sort of an artistic tourist trap, in my and Rick's opinion, and Lahaina DOES bear a striking resemblence to that. However, I was able to get in some good shopping anyway, including something for ME! Gretchen had been noting how I was doing so much Christmas/birthday shopping that I hadn't bought anything for myself, which was true. However, here I found a gorgeous shirt! Pricey, yes, but really nice, none the less! Also, a few things for the Christmas/birthday shopping list too. This was before the parade began, which was sort of a quaint and charming affair. However, there is a serious undertone as the festival itself is part of the 'Hawaiian Sovereignty Movement,' in which the aboriginal culture seeks to restore the Royal Family, which still exists. There is a small but vocal and mobilized movement towards this goal.

After the parade, we decided to stop at one of Gretchen's traditional spots: China Boat, which is a fairly typical Chinese restaurant. Why it deserves special mention here, is that as we drove in to park, we spotted a man taking a picture of the front awning, which we found curious. It would only become a bit more surreal, as we were seated next to the table of 10, and one of them announced that this was the first time he had ever been to a Chinese restaurant and didn't know how to order. This was NOT a European but (and I can't help myself) a 'good ole boy,' who really needs to get out more.

Day 7
Today would be the climax of my trip: The Discover Ka'anapali Excursion, by Trilogy Cruises, in which I would drop myself off of a boat into 100' of water and swim with the fishes. Well, actually snorkel with them, which is sort of a guided float more than anything else. We had to be there bright and early as it is a fairly all-day trip, loading onto the boat at 8:00 a.m. and returning around 3:00 p.m. The excursion included a continental breakfast of juice and cinnamon buns, an hour of snorkeling, followed by a BBQ lunch, and then another hour or so of snorkeling, followed by a sail around the waters between Maui and Lana'i, and of course all the sodas and snacks you can eat throughout the day. It turned out to be a fabulous trip! The crew of three (captain, first mate and scuba/snorkel instructor/waiter) were a joy and entertaining. We were literally escorted to our first destination, Honolua Bay, by pods of dolphins, which gave some of the passengers a thrill of a lifetime, or so it seemed by their shrieking. That was with the exception of a pair of late teenage boys, who were smoldering in jaded hotness over the idea of fawning over nature. The father of one of the guys was actually pretty nice to talk to, as I think he had had enough of 'bonding' with his son and his friend. There was also a big beefy marine, whom our captain was more than happy to bond with. Oh yes, MORE than happy, in that the captain who was sort of campily entertaining (and pinging on the gaydar) would become surprisingly butch in casual conversation with big beefy marine boy.

Honolua Bay was exceptionally picturesque and filled by Trigger Fish (aka Humuhumunukunukuapua'a), though the water itself was a bit murky. Gretchen and I purchased fairly inexpensive Kodak water cameras and did our best to 'capture the magic' as it were [Appendix B].

As four other cruises ended up meeting us there, and the crowd was getting a bit out of control in their attempt to swim with the reluctant dolphins, our captain moved on to the second bay, Makulei'a Bay, also known as "Slaughter House". Here the water was clearer and the creatures a tad more exotic.

I got to observe a young sea turtle and Gretchen had a not so close encounter with an octopus! I found the reef itself to be much more enticing than the one at Honolua, though that is considered a better spot, if not second to Molokini, for snorkeling. I spent about a half hour or so at the first spot and longer at the second as I became more comfortable with the idea of floating above a reef fifty to one hundred feet below me. Trilogy Excursions insist on floatation devices for its passengers. Some of them are no more than wet suits. I had a life vest, which by the second 'dive' had actually deflated and I was actually treading water myself, with some help from the snorkel. The trip ended with a fabulous hour or so long trade wind sail back to Ka'anapali. It was almost like whitewater rafting, but with ice creams served in the midst of it. I. Loved. It. Gretchen offered to cover the cost of the whole excursion, due to my initial hesitancy. But after doing it, I had such a great time, I insisted on paying my half.

After this long and exhausting day, we showered up and went back to the Maui Brewing Company, where Mr. Gorgeous Manager (aka Garrett Marrero - yes Goggle can be a stalker's best friend!) was working again that night, and I was able to actually interact with him a little bit as he had temporarily lost my charge card when I paid the bill. Sigh...

Day 8
Our last day. :( We had a red-eye return flight scheduled at 9:00 p.m. Our check out time was 11:00 a.m. What to do? Check out, visit the Kapalua stores some more (yes, I found a few more last minute items) and then head to the Maui Ocean Center which is actually a fairly sophisticated name for an aquarium. Now, some of you may be asking "Why visit an aquarium the day after snorkeling all day?!" Well, we did have TEN HOURS to kill before departure! And as we found out via eavesdropping, we weren't the only ones there doing the same thing. The center itself is actually well thought out and, considering it's relatively small size compared to Monterey's aquarium, it had an interesting flow and design to it. The sea turtle and reef exhibits were quite exceptional! We were lucky enough to be in the reef exhibit during feeding time, in which a manta ray was acting just like a puppy dog with the feeding diver. It was cute, but in a good way. We made our way to the 6,000 square feet of gift shop, which, yes, I did some last-last minute shopping there, too! When will it end?!

We had lunch at the Center, which was staffed by ice tea pushers. It was sort of odd how a glass was never allowed to go half full with out another pitcher leaping into your face. Eating was a very good thing, as we really didn't know what to do next. I suggested visiting Iao Valley State Park.

Iao Valley State Park features amongst other things, the Iao Needle, which is a 2 foot natural rock pinnacle. Yes, it was also something of a phallic alter during times of war and burials. However, it is also in one of the most beautiful settings that I saw on the island. During the rain season, there are waterfalls that would just blow my mind, I think. Though there were a number of tourists throughout the park, the majority of visitors were islanders who were having Memorial Day BBQs, which was something of a change from the over spending tourism that I'd been exposed to all week. It was a bit of a culture jolt, but a nice one to see that 'normal' people lived there.

From there, we killed MORE time by stopping at a Borders Books on the way to the airport, where, yes, I did buy MORE STUFF!! Some Hawaiian cds which I could preview there and I am sure I would never remember the names to look up via Amazon.com.

And finally, the airport again. There is a surprisingly complex number of agricultural and security check points along the way to the gate. There is also some MORE shopping. Yes, I bought a last souvenir for MYSELF there: a teddy bear with a pineapple body, which was TOO cute! So there were a couple of hundred of us huddled at the gate, a couple of whom I recognized from earier that day at the aquarium. The flight back was as uneventful as a red-eye flight usually is. We did not, nor had I attempted to, get upgraded. However, we were seated in the "Priority Plus" section, which is usually a $50 surcharge, but no charge was made that I know of. Anyway, I was sort of sad that it was ending.

Some of you might have noticed that I didn't even once attempt to 'ditch' Gretchen, as I have some past travelmates (Maestas, Heidi, etc.). Yes, there might have been a few moments where I was silently thinking "Oh, just park already!!" but we got long quite well for a 24/8 trip! However, I am already thinking about my next trip there, which I would like to at least do part of it alone, where I can really PARTY! Bwahahaha!! Perhaps in Honolulu to start and then move on from there. Snorkeling on Molokini is a definite future target, as is Volcano on the Big Island. I wanna go back. Now!

Appendix A: Gretchen's Photologue
This is only a sample of photos Gretchen took.

(sort of an impressionistic hula shot)

Appendix B: A Few More Snorkel Pics
Gretchen's Shots:

Jay's Shots:

Sailing back

p.s. Obligatory Bathroom Shot:

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