Tag: Maui

Revelations by Twilight

This is a piece I wrote for Matador U’s Advanced Travel Writing program. The theme was write about a time you were lost, either metaphorically or physically. I wrote about moving to Maui: the reason behind my move, the very unwarm welcome I received and how I found myself on the other side.  All the details are true and are highly personal and sensitive to me. Please have a read and enjoy the ride.

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Living and working on the Big Island for six months took its toll on me.

I found some semblance of home on a 3-acre tropical agriculture farm on the eastern side of the Big Island, Hawaii. Pahoa, our little jungle town, promised exotic adventures and a rotating door of interesting, but not always good, people.

Because of its unique location amongst O’hia and Albizia trees, Pahoa attracted a certain demographic of people who ran away and hid from their problems. The Big Island: the perfect place to lose and then find yourself again – if you were lucky. A lot of people stayed lost on the Big Island, succumbing to their narcotic of choice, driving around drunk and reckless, putting others’ in harm’s way.

I needed an escape. I booked a side trip to the neighbor island Maui for a breath of fresh air, or perspective, or both.

I didn’t know a soul on Maui, so I logged onto couch surfing and sent out a handful of requests. The first person to respond was a surfer named Frank. His profile picture piqued my interest. He stood in front of a cascading waterfall, both hands behind his back, looking into the distance. His blond ponytail hung over his chiseled, tan back. Frank, the stereotypical hunky surfer, would be my host around Maui for the next 5 days.

I couldn’t contain my excitement. I packed my sarong, a few swimsuits, my cutest sundresses, a hippie headband and oversized sunglasses.  My friends dropped me off at the airport, waved bon voyage and off I went to meet Frank.

A 45 minute flight later dropped me into windy Maui. Frank picked me up at the airport in his rugged, four wheel drive truck. He didn’t have a shirt on. My heart was in my throat.

“Aloha! Welcome to Maui,” Frank said.

I felt punch-drunk. Who was this dreamy man? I wondered incredulously.

“I thought we’d pick up a six pack and head north,” Frank said.

Now he’s done it, I thought. I’m officially hooked.

I silenced every moral fiber in my body telling me not to get too involved. I didn’t want a one-night stand. If this went somewhere, anywhere – north– it would all be over. I’d be his lovesick sidekick in a dirty truck.

So what? I reasoned with myself. Life is made for wild adventures, hungry love and bad decisions. I resigned myself to head north, or wherever the hell else Frank had in mind.

A whirlwind of romantic adventures encompassed the next 5 days. We sipped wine on a cliff overlooking Ironwoods Beach, climbed forbidden trails in ‘Iao Valley, had sex in his cramped studio, snorkeled the best reefs on island, and cooked breakfast in the nude while chatting about surfing. We lied in bed, fingers interlocked, talking about eventually wanting to settle into a relationship. I secretly hoped he’d want that with me.

My last day in Maui, as Frank drove me to the airport, I told him I wanted to see him again. He gave me a kiss goodbye and promised to keep in touch.

I arrived back to the farm in Pahoa, glowing. Everyone knew I had a fabulous time and it showed.

“I’m moving to Maui,” I announced. I’m famous for making bold, rash decisions in the heat of the moment.

“You are? That’s so awesome Jill!” my friend Brandan said.

A few people supporting my assertion rendered it official: I was going to move to Maui.

I flew home to Chicago a week or two later to gather some final belongings and visit with family. I still hadn’t heard anything from Frank after I texted him about my impending move. The silence killed me; but, I knew I had to get off the Big Island. Maui seemed to be the next logical step.

“You don’t know anyone there, Jill,” my mom said.

“Well, I have a few friends,” I lied. I shuffled my feet around the fact that my only lifeline was Frank, a romantic acquaintance.

A few days before my move, I received a text from Frank.

“So, you moving to Maui? Do you need a place to stay when you land?”

Besides myself, I agreed to let Frank pick me up from the airport. I’d stay with him until I found a place to live. I secretly hoped, though, that we would pick up where we left off: in the heat of romance.

My parents dropped me off at O’Hare and waved goodbye, wishing me good luck.

When I arrived at the terminal, my flight had been delayed. Instead of landing at 5 p.m., just in time for an amazing Maui sunset, I’d arrive at 10 p.m.

I texted Frank the change of plans. No response from him right away, but it didn’t matter, because my flight was boarding.

I zoned out for the next 5 hours, trying to get through the long flight while containing my excitement about seeing Frank again.

We touched down in Kahului, Maui in the darkness. I turned on my phone to check for a message from Frank.

“It’s kind of late. I’m going to have my friend Henry pick you up,” Frank texted.

Who is Henry? I wondered. How was I supposed to find him?

I stood outside of the airport, “looking” for Henry. I had no idea what he looked like, what he would be driving…nothing.

After about fifteen minutes, panic started to settle in. What have I done? Why would I trust a guy I met once to come get me without making a backup plan? I didn’t even have cash for a taxi or a hotel reservation.

Wearing a giant backpack with 2 suitcases in tow, I realized that I was utterly lost. Abandoned by the only person I thought I knew on island, I stood at the airport in tears. I knew Frank wasn’t coming. I also knew that the romance I thought would reignite the moment my foot touched Maui soil had crashed and burned.

Suddenly, a truck pulled up.

“Jill? Is that you?” Henry screamed with his head out the window.

“Yeah! Are you Henry?” I screamed back.

“Yeah! Get on in!” Henry said.

Henry turned out to be Frank’s best friend and my saving grace during a hard moment. We drove to Henry’s apartment in the mountains, making casual, albeit awkward small talk.

“I don’t know what happened to Frank, but he asked me to pick you up. We’ll get with him in the morning,” Henry said.

“Fair enough. Where can I sleep? I’m exhausted,” I asked.

Henry motioned toward the only bed in his apartment.

“You can sleep in there with me. I don’t bite,” he said.

Here we go, I thought. The only person willing to take me in for the night wanted to get me in bed – literally. Stuck between a rock and a hard place, I reluctantly agreed.

“Okay, but no funny stuff. And I mean it,” I said.

That night, we slept, perfect strangers, side by side. Nothing funny happened.

I woke up to a note on the counter from Henry who had already left for the day.

“Jill – It’s been so nice to meet you! I think you should leave today. Here’s the number to Banana Bungalow Hostel. They usually have plenty of rooms at a good rate. Take care and see you around. –Henry”

Angry about everything that happened to me since arriving, I tried calling Frank outright to ask him why he pinned me off on his friend. He didn’t answer, so I resorted to a text war.

It turned out that Frank “double-booked” his couch surfers and didn’t have room for anyone else. Instead of letting me know, he thought it best to completely ignore me. I angrily accused him of abandoning me and treating me like an unwanted burden. He called me an ungrateful bitch, saying the island would spit me out in 6 months, at the most.

I checked into the youth hostel and rented a car. Hurt by my unwanted “welcome” to Maui, I felt stupid, useless and cast aside. I knew that I was just another notch in a surfer dude’s belt.

Deflated, I drove north in my rental car, this time by myself. I marveled at the way the waves broke on Maui’s North Shore, feeling anxiety about my decision to move all the way here for a guy. What a joke it turned out to be.

I pulled into Ho’okipa Beach, the windsurfing capital of the world. Sunset would be soon.

Taking my place on the rocks near the shoreline, I put my head in my hands and wept.

I had the beach to myself. Between sobs, I asked Maui aloud:

“Please give me a sign Maui. This is too hard. Too much. Please show me a sign that I am where I’m supposed to be,” I said.

I couldn’t handle any more curve balls. Awful and lonely aptly described my first few days in paradise.

I promised Maui to show respect, to be Pono (to do what’s right) and to live with Aloha. I needed to know that everything would be okay.

As I sat there, offering myself up to the island while watching the Pacific rolling in, eight large green sea turtles crawled onto shore. In Hawaii, honu, or turtles, are symbolic of good luck. As if answering my prayers for a sign that things will work out how they’re supposed to, the turtles emerged from the sea to rest.

A few days earlier, I met Kristy, a restaurant owner from Atlanta, at the bar. We were two lonely souls who connected over strong Mai Tais. She gave me advice about being a free woman, following your intuition and scoping out the best possible scenario for yourself.

“It’s all about just riding the horse,” she said.  “Sometimes instead of trying to control everything, you need to let go and let things happen. Sit up on the saddle and ride it. That’s life.”

Her words rung in my ears as the honu continued to creep onto the sand. I couldn’t live my Maui life for some jerky surfer guy. I needed to get back on the horse, sit up on the saddle and ride it – for myself.

I looked to the turtles who rested after their endless, difficult miles at sea. I relaxed into myself and began to trust in my own tumultuous journey. I walked back to my car, illuminated by Maui’s twilight revelations, just as the sun dipped into the horizon.

A view from heaven at Haleakala

I’m on another spontaneous road trip, the only kind worth having by the way, with my sister Bree visiting from Chicago and my boyfriend Jon. He’s a good travel partner because we go wherever the wind blows us. This time we’re heading all the way up to the 10,023 foot volcano summit of Haleakala on Maui.

We’re toward upcountry Maui from the center of town. We’ve already visited a bird sanctuary that was less than spectacular and a huge African tortoise named Freddie at the Maui humane society. Our original plan was to head toward Paia, but one wrong turn starts us on an incredible adventure.

Bree and I sit like dogs, our heads hanging out the window, smelling the woodsy air as the climate cools and outside is so reminiscent of fall, it’s hard to believe an hour ago we were sweating at the beach. I think the most surprising thing about Maui and the Hawaiian islands in general is the diversity of landscapes. You can from sea level to 10,000 odd feet in an hour. People who scuba dive aren’t allowed to do in the same day. You’re head might explore, or something.

Our minds are being blown as Jon drives up the mountain, twisting and turning, going up and up. The drive becomes nerve wracking and surreal:  I can’t believe we’re driving this close to the edge of a mountain with no barriers or guard rails. Another thing to love about Hawaii is that you can do just about anything at your own risk. Want to hike to the lava flow in the middle of the night on Big Island? Go for it. There’s no gates holding you back. Want to scale a cliff? It’s all you. Climb a triple-tiered slippery-as-hell waterfall? If you can hack it, why not?

Going up!

This time Hawaii beckons us up toward Haleakala’s summit, part of a national park. Just when I think we can’t possibly go any further up, since, jeez, we’re already in the clouds, we pull up to the booth to pay the ranger our $10 admission fee.

“Welcome folks. The visitor center is just ahead and it’s about another 40 minutes to the summit up the mountain,” the ranger says nonchalantly.

I’m usually not a nervous traveler. I’ve gone ’round the world solo, but somehow driving on the edge of the world, and on the edge of reason, along this 2 way road full of dangerous, sometimes blind switchbacks, above the clouds is enough to make me sit on my hands and sweat.

What is this place?

Jon takes the opportunity to pretend at each curve that he’s going to go straight off the mountain. I’d hit him except I’m afraid one false move will send us plummeting off the cliff to our imminent deaths.

I envy the cars coming down. No one looks as scared or nervous as I feel. I calm down remembering that the views will be worth it. We see some hiking trails and a few nene (Hawaiian goose) crossing the road.

Soon we are truly above the clouds. We’ve traveled 1/3 of a commercial airline’s cruising altitude…by car. A little short of breath and freezing (since impromptu road trips to different climates rarely means being prepared with hoodies or fleeces), we get out of the car and observe Mars.

The crater

Haleakala hasn’t erupted since 1790 and technically lies dormant. The mountain itself comprises 75 percent of Maui’s total landmass. The past few years there have been earthquakes and there’s rumors that the sleeping “House of the Sun” (Halekala’s translation) may rouse and flow once more.

We traveled there around sunset which was a fantastic view, the clouds painted the beautiful colors of twilight. Sunrise is a very popular time, and some heighten watching the sun rise from behind the clouds to a religious experience.

The descent

Either way, sunrise, sunset, to see some nene, roaming cows, feasting your eyes on a veritable alien landscape, or just to say you survived the drive, Haleakala is one of the must-dos on Maui.

Ten things I love about Hawaii

It’s no secret that basically all I do is gush about life in Hawaii. Is it really THAT good? To me, yes! Everyday I have a moment of blissful adoration for Maui, whether it be an amazing sunset I catch, a view of the mountains at just the right light, or a “Try Go Slow, Kids at Play…Mahalo” sign. What is it about this place that is so special?

It’s probably the food.

Among other reasons, I’ve comprised a list of 10 things I absolutely love about Hawaii, in no particular order. I know I can come up with many more…perhaps this will become a series of posts to come.

1. Always having dirty feet: No matter what I do to try to keep my feet clean, they always end up tracking some dirt or sand into the house. I think my heel is permasealed with dirt. Hey, in a place you can go practically anywhere barefoot, it’s liberating to go sans-shoes once in a while!

2. Wild chickens, roosters and peacocks roam around everywhere: I thought that chickens just lived in the country, but it turns out that even the suburban areas of Maui  have roosters crowing at the crack of dawn, running across the street whenever they want and basically just living the chicken life (aka the goooood life) here in Hawaii.

3. The Hawaiian tradition to remove your slippahs and shoes before entering the house: This is one of my favorite Hawaiian traditions brought by the Japanese plantation workers back in the day. You know the party is bumpin’ when you see a pile of 30 plus slippahs (sandals) and shoes outside the door. While house hunting, I met with a realtor who took off his dress shoes before entering any of the properties he showed us. That’s life in Hawaii…respecting your living space and leaving the outside outside (as much as possible since you’re likely to have dirty feet).

4. It’s legal, acceptable and FUN to ride in the back of trucks: Some of the most fun I’ve ever had was hitching rides in the back of pick-up trucks…Windy, rainy? Who cares? Sitting on a wheel well, cruising in the back while you’re being driven through a winding gulch is better and more beautiful than any roller coaster I’ve ever been on. Sometimes you see kids just chilling in the back of trucks or people parked up at the beach sitting in their beach chairs in the back of their trucks watching the surf. The back of a truck is a local hangout!

I’ve probably used this photo 100 times, but c’mon..look at this fun group of hooligans! Five people, one truck.

5. Plastic bags at grocery stores have been OUTLAWED! Paper & reusable bags only: My heart melts for this one. A place that’s actually environmentally friendly enough to BAN plastic bags? Rock on! Hawaii’s unique circumstance of being surrounded in all directions by thousands of miles of open ocean means that a lot of life here depends on keeping the oceans clean and healthy. Unnecessary trash and debris, especially plastic bags, threaten to ruin our most precious Eco-system. Plus, it’s just good practice to keep reusable bags in the car.

6. There’s a huge movement to buy local, farm-fresh produce: There’s a reason I wear a trucker hat with an emblem of the Hawaiian islands, a taro leaf and a recycle symbol signifying a movement for a sustainable Hawaii. Those that live here know expensive produce and food in general is because it’s shipped from the mainland. Those that are visiting usually can’t believe their eyes at our prices in the grocery stores. Who can blame them? Luckily people are in favor of buying local, organic, supporting the farmers or even starting their own farms. I’m in the process of weeding my yard so I can plant some herbs, veggies and fruits. Though right now I’m not in the position to live off my garden, I’d love one day to only supplement my diet at the grocery store rather than rely on it.

7. The availability of good food is mind-blowing: There’s sushi happy hours everywhere, ahi poke (raw, cubed ahi tuna dressed with sesame oil, soy sauce, sea salt, green onions, Maui onion, limu seaweed and chili pepper), plate lunches with mac salad, teriyaki beef, white rice, fresh Maui Gold pineapple, huli huli chicken (BBQ chicken), garlic shrimp, korean tacos, lau lau (pork steamed inside taro leaves)…The food alone is reason to live here, to be honest.

Lau lau and all the fixings. You haven’t lived ’til you’ve eaten ono (delicious) Hawaiian food

8. Hawaii’s a cultural melting pot: I can’t get over the cultural diversity here. I love it. There’s Hawaiian, Caucasian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Filipino, Vietnamese, Portuguese…what a great place to live! I get exposure every day to new customs, traditions and most interestingly, recipes from all these different cultures. It’s also awesome to think that I’m just as close to Asia as the mainland, so if I ever want to vacation to Asia, it’s not an arm and a leg away. Score on all accounts.

9.  The lack of materialism: You would hardly know who’s a millionaire here and who is a beach bum. Dressing up in Hawaii is an Aloha shirt (you’ve seen ’em..typical floral print shirts) and khakis. Professionals only sometimes tuck in their shirts. You won’t be looked down upon if you rock a sarong and slippahs or drive around shirtless (guys). As far as I can tell, everyone is treated as an equal.

10. Having respect for the ‘aina: This is an essential for living in Hawaii and something I learn again and again here. To get respect, you have to give respect: for people, animals, plants and the precious land. Leave only footprints and make only memories is a phrase I hear often here.

 

Reconnecting with Aloha

I am back island side after 2 long months of traveling, visiting family and friends around the mainland, and making a trip to Thailand.

What a whirlwind year! When I think of it all, it almost makes me crazy to think of all the times I’ve taken off, landed, stuck my thumb out for a ride (still need to return that favor when I see hitchhikers) and laid my head to rest in various parts of the world.

That’s a whole lotta travel!

With the stresses of moving halfway across the world to Maui, I have found that it’s been a bit of an adjustment to come back to Hawaiian time and the Hawaiian way. I’ve officially been here one week and I’m just now starting to slip back into the ways of Aloha. What do I mean by that?

Moving automatically makes you self-driven, operating in survival mode, ready to throw elbows against competitors and nay-sayers. I know this is the sort of attitude I developed, and I want to flush it down the toilet. I already managed to piss off one friend by calling him out for not picking me up at the airport. Though I think we both over-reacted, I can’t afford to make enemies before I even make friends. That’s not my lot in life.

Detoxing from the mainland takes some time. When I was gone from Hawaii the first time around, it took me almost 3 weeks to be born-again. I arrived and I looked haggard. My skin had faded to a pasty white and I surely put on some pounds from eating so much red meat back home (yummy but not good for my body or complexion). I was wound up from the mainland, riddled with anxiety and nerves and I was overall a big mess. I guess you can say much of the same this time around.

I have a lot riding on this move. I sold my car back home, I said goodbye to my friends and family…I jetted off into the unknown where I only knew one person (who probably seriously hates me now, but what can I do?) and I’m attempting to carve out a life for myself. For now, more question marks than answers are in front of me. I’m nervous that I’m burning through money too fast, spending more than I’m making and wondering if I’m getting the “best deal.”

But then it occurred to me that no matter where I am in life, that’s where I’m supposed to be. So what if I’m a little uncomfortable to start and a bit lonely? Worrying about making friends isn’t going to help me make them. Worrying that I won’t have enough money to survive here isn’t going to make me money to survive here. Thinking it’s all about me without counting my blessing is my biggest mistake yet.

With coming to the islands and living aloha, you respect and give blessings and thanks for everything you have in your life. You live with love, awareness, humility and kindness. Instead of worrying with negativity, you anticipate with positive energy. Instead of blaming, you appreciate. Instead of being out for yourself and your survival, you see the world with new eyes, eyes that help you see that the world is a product of your mindset. If you treat it poorly, it will treat you poorly in return.

It will take me more time still to figure out my role here on Maui. I need to continuously be grateful for all of the opportunities afforded to me, have follow through, be committed and do my best. I need to smile more than I furrow my brow, quit worrying so much, and appreciate the natural beauty around me. If something this beautiful can exist from behind my eyes, than I have to know things will be okay:

Sunset at Ho’okipa Beach. Photo by author

 

I sat on the beach the other night, alone, worried. As I was sitting there on the rocks, I had a conversation aloud with Maui about how hard this last week has been for me, and even though I’m strong, I can’t handle too many more curve balls. I  admitted that I’m lonely and constantly going over negative thoughts in my head. I promised to have respect for the island and to be pono (do what’s right).

As I sat there and offered all of myself up to the island, watching the Pacific rolling in and the sun dipping into the clouds, eight large green sea turtles began to crawl onto shore. In Hawaii, honu, or turtles, are symbolic of good luck. As if answering my prayers for a sign that things will work out how they’re supposed to, almost ten turtles emerged from the sea onto the shore to “rest.”

Photo by author

I felt so humbled and blessed at the same time. Never before had I seen so many of God’s beautiful creatures up close and in one place: and they were crawling toward me! I am going to forever remember that special moment for inspiration when times are lonely and hard: that good luck is here with me always, I just have to be wise enough to believe it.

Mahalo ke akua!

Life as a full time traveler

I’ve been traveling full-time for almost eight months.

I’m humbled by all the experiences I’ve had. This has been the best year of my life in so many ways. My mind’s been opened to the big wild world, and it’s love, my friends.

Never thought this year would have me chillin’ with ‘roos

Couchsurfing around the world, camping on remote beaches and calling wherever I lay my hat my home has been the name of the game this year. But the time has come for me to go out and get me one of those J-O-Bs!

I’ve been lucky enough to travel extensively this year, taking time off from the grind to really concentrate on the next chapter of my life. As I went, I was able to scope out different living situations so that at the end of my year I could pick somewhere to live and settle in for a while.

From Philly, to Chicago, out west to L.A., San Francisco, Northern California, out to Australia and back, Portland and then Hawaii, I’ve seen a lot of places I’d love to call home for a while for a variety of reasons.

Where the road goes

But nothing was as special as Hawaii.

Like a good love, the islands swept me off my feet. I came and could hardly bare the thought of leaving right away to continue on my round-the-world trip. Coming here for a 2 week trip turned into a four-month travel-venture that leaves me wanting more.

home

After living in the rainforest for four months on east side of Big Island in Hawaii, I’m ready for an upgrade of awesomeness. My next chapter has me going back to the mainland to sell off some final things I left behind this year and transplant myself in Maui. The scene is burgeoning, the food is good and the jobs a lot more plentiful than Big Island.

I’m not ready to say goodbye to the islands. In fact, I just arrived. I’m stoked to see where my future lies here. I’ll continue to travel as much as possible.

I’m definitely not ready to hang up the old hat. Not yet. There’s just too much good world to take in. But for now, I’m going to stay on island time.