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Betty Nolan On Seawall at Lahaina Old Town on West Maui
Our trip to Maui to celebrate our 30th Wedding Anniversary did not start auspiciously. Betty took a day off from school today, a Tuesday, so that we could squeeze in an extra day for the vacation. I had arranged free, round-trip tickets to Honolulu on Northwest Airlines in exchange for 60,000 frequent flyer miles under a special promotion that required completion of travel on June 15. Betty had 10,000 miles in her frequent flyer account, enough to provide free tickets for the connecting flights to Maui. But due to 55 of the about 150 seats on the Memphis-Seattle plane being booked by the military (compounded by my failure to call in seat reservations 30 days in advance), the plane was completely full and we ended up in different rows with middle seats on the way out. Uggh. The aggravation started at the curbside check-in at Memphis International Airport, when the skycap mislabled our final destination as Honolulu, when we wanted our bags checked through to Maui. We had to wait in line at the inside counter for a long time for a very slow clerk, possibly influenced by the strike talk that is current at Northwest. It's got to get better.
The plane sat on the runway for 1 hour and 15 minutes due to the late arrival of the military personnel and their luggage. They were evidently on their way to the Seattle area for summer camp training. With a totally full plane, it was a long flight, further delayed by having to circle around Seattle due to heavy traffic in the area. At least my two seatmates were fairly small in stature. One was an Asian who slept all the way. The other was an English prof at Georgia State University at Columbus, en route to the Phillipines on a 28-hour trip. Betty had a polite, young serviceman on one side and a chatty teacher-widow on the other. We were on the plane for 6 hours, counting runway time. Breakfast was served at 11:30 a.m.
We were met at the Seattle Airport by my Aunt Margaret Nolan and her youngest son, Tim. We treated them to a lunch of burgers at an airport restaurant and had a nice visit. I learned she is selling her lakeside home for $600,000 and has already bought another place; oldest son Donnie and his second wife are getting divorced; third son Mike is home working part-time while wife LeAnn and daughter travel in Northern Africa and Eastern Europe; second son Dick has finished his latest book and is returning to Harvard to teach.
The DC-10 from Seattle to Honolulu was also completely filled. We both had aisle seats, generally across from one another. Betty's seatmate, a young Japanese man, declined to swap his window seat for my interior aisle seat. It was a 5 1/2 hour flight, delayed by 30 minutes. My seatmate was Aaron, 7, who was flying with his dad, a native Hawaiian on his way to Hilo for a family reunion. Father was also a world champion dart thrower and a very laid back guy, who was generous with his supply of home-made beef jerky. The boy was a bundle of energy and a delight. But the flight seemed endless. A lousy evening meal of chicken and rice, possibly the worst airline food I've ever had, was most unsatisfying.
We finally arrived at Honolulu about 6 p.m. and promptly boarded the Wiki Wiki shuttle bus to transport us to the inter-island terminal and Hawaiian Airlines for the 25-minute hop to Maui. We rented an Alamo car, declining the clerk's urgings to trade up from a midsize to a larger car, and ended up with a large Chevrolet Lumina anyway - for no extra charge. Our bags caught up with us on the next flight and we left the airport about 8 p.m. My screw-up in directions, possibly triggered by tiredness, had us drive way out of the way to the Mona Kai Maui condominiums at Kehei rather than the Maui Kai condominiums at Kaanapali Beach. The lost hour made me even crankier. We finally arrived about 10 p.m., after stopping for a takeout sandwich and beer, thoroughly exhausted. With the five hour time difference and all the delays, we had been traveling for 19 hours since arriving at the Memphis airport.
With bodies confused by five time zone changes and the stress of yesterday's travel hassles, we got up quite early - 5 a.m. - and enjoyed watching the dimly lighted surf roll up to the thin strip of beach in front of our building. We stayed in a studio condominium at the Maui Kai, an older property on an extremely choice spot. (Address is www.mauikai.com. e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. 800-367-5635). We were on the 8th floor, unit No. 807 "Hale Lono", and had a generously sized unit that was superbly equipped and owned by a California couple for some years. (e-mail is email@example.com). Their guest comment book contained a wealth of plaudits and useful information, plus a few laughs for us. The somewhat dated decor wasn't to our taste, but the unit was very comfortable. The water's edge at high tide is perhaps 30 feet from the building; evidently some of the beach has washed away since construction. It had the usual facilities, including a pool, hot tub, etc. Next door was a gigantic Embassy Suites Resort Hotel, shaped like an Aztec pyramid and with a huge, waterfall pool. Some large rocks had been placed on our thin strip of sand in front of the building to stabilize the beach. Just below the sand was smooth rock, either volcano or coral. The view of the rolling surf, bracketed by the Island of Lanai to the left and the Island of Molakai to the right, was beyond a doubt absolutely the finest we've ever had of anyplace we've stayed, anywhere in the world.Our balcony, or lanai, was nice sized and included a day bed, table and comfortable chairs. It faced the ocean and we were up high enough that we could not be seen by persons walking the beach beneath or by any of the units to the side. Very private and extraordinarily scenic. The snorkling in the shallow water in front of the building was quite good, with many dozens of colorful reef fish, some 18 inches or so long and quite unafraid.
After my morning snorkle around our section of Kaanapali Beach in front of our condo, we got off to an early start. The first stop was Hilo Hatties in nearby Lahaina (pronounced lah-highnah), an inviting, island chain mixing junky souvenirs with quality Hawaiian clothing we had visited five years earlier on Kuai.We purchased a gaudy shirt and necktie for me, two long dresses for Betty and several gifts for Casey, my niece Kate Nolan, age 10, and our neighbor, Kate Walker, age 6. We visited a nearby re-creation of an ancient, native "Hana," a living compound consisting of three log-and-grass huts and several totem poles. The floors were of loose, flat rocks covered with straw mats. Must have been tough sleeping, even with the Hawaiian proclivity for body fat.
We parked the rental car along the waterfront of the Lahaina Old Town, now a blocks long collection of trendy gift shops and watering holes. We picked up my niece a shirt from the local Hard Rock Cafe and Betty a snazzy bracelet locally crafted from lapus and hematite. We watched the surfers, poked around the marina of tourist cruise/sailing/fishing/snorkling boats and then shopped for a few groceries at a nearby Safeway, where some prices were quite high and some surprisingly low (gin and wine was about 50 percent cheaper than in Memphis and sales tax only 4 percent). Unleaded, regular gasoline is $1.71.-to-$1.89 a gallon, compared to $0.99-to-$1.03 at home.
We dived into green salads for lunch back at the condo. I then snorkled and took a nap while Betty sunned on our lanai. Later, we went to Erik's Seafood Grotto for dinner, a place recommended by Fodor's Guidebook and also the concierge at the condo. It was a "moderate price" establishment, but with a bottle of wine the tab and tip came to $100. But the fresh fish (sea bass for me, macademia nut encrusted mahi mahi for Betty) was superb. We then poked around the cavernous Embassy Suites lobby, which reminded us of the Acapulco Princess, and admired the stands of fresh flowers, both of the cut variety and also in the numerous beds. I had purchased a plumaria lei for Betty at the restaurant, which she put in the fridge once we got back to our condo. The cooling trade winds and the screened double-doors to our porch made our use of the condo airconditioning quite sparing; it only ran for one night, and that was only for a brief time.
After a breakfast of surprisingly good, multigrain bread toast with peanut butter, I got back into the water for a morning snorkle and again saw a good many, colorful fish in the shallow water in front of our condo. Some light surf and the smooth rock at water's edge at low tide made it somewhat difficult for me to exit the water with fins on, reminding me of the aging process worsened by a persistent muscle strain in my lower abdomen. I was mindful of the time, harkening back 35 years ago, when I had the strength and agility to pop out of the surf-washed rocks around Santa Cruz like a sea lion. At mid-morning, I departed for the Silversword Golf Club, about 35 minutes away at Kihei. It is named for a local plant that is silver in color and akin to the Century Plant; it sends up a sword-like, reproductive stalk after 4-to-14 years, then dies. The course has a good but distant view of the ocean and plays on rolling hills. From the white tees the rating is 68.8, slope 117 and it plays 6,0003 yards. It was in excellent condition, with generous greens and generally wide fairways. The afternoon rate was $44. While the clubhouse and adjoining restaurant were somewhat shabby, I had a very good salad and hot dog for lunch at a reasonable price. I was paired with an American-Japanese couple from Orange County, Calif., Kats and Grace, both 80 years old, retired since age 62 and regular visitors to Maui and Silversword. They couldn't hit the ball very far, but kept it in the fairway and were great company. He mentioned he had been imprisoned in a relocation camp during World War II and I told him about going to school in Sacramento with Japanese-American kids born in the Tule Lake Camp in Northern California. I was wild off the tee, losing several balls. But I managed a 99 due to a fairly good short iron game and decent putting. While I sunned, Betty enjoyed the beach and three spectacular rainbows. An unusual atmospheric occurence happened repeatedly that day and others: there could be no clouds overhead and bright sun, but light rain could fall without warning. Really odd.
On the recommendation of Tony, the female concierge at the condo, we got takeout dinners from a nearby Japanese deli, Honokowai Okazuya & Deli. My ono (a wahoo fish) in a lemon caper sauce was outstanding. Betty's Panko Fried Mahi Mahi was also outstanding. The accompanying rice and stir fried vegetables were OK. The meal was surprisingly plentiful and cheap, about $15 for both. We sipped chardonnay and watched the beautiful sunset from our balcony, with the rolling surf and view of the two nearby islands simply gorgeous. We retired early due to the early wake-up the next day for our bike ride.
Lewis & Betty Nolan At Crater
We got up early as usual in this five-hour time zone change and drove 1 hour and 15 minutes to Kula Lodge at the base of the dormant Haleakala Volcano and National Park. We were told the last eruption was in 1790, leaving a crater big enough to hold the entire island of Manhattan. The lodge was the pickup point for Maui Downhill, one of several bike firms that provide rides down from the volcano's peak. We joined 10 other riders and boarded a van pulling a trailer of mountain bikes. Two young men, Randy and Val, were the leaders. It seemed like a class outfit (www.mauidownhill.net) as all the equipment was nearly new and the young men seemed to know their stuff and were quite nice. The cost was $62 each, which seemed to be worth it considering the high level of service. We chose the 22-mile escorted ride (coast is more descriptive) down the mountain and it was a fabulous ride. It took about an hour to drive up to the peak, stopping midway at a Park Service rest area. The crater itself was a huge and desolate hole that looked like a moonscape. We talked to a Park ranger in the visitor center about the Silversword plant. We were well above the clouds, at nearly 10,000 feet, and the sky was perfectly clear and blue due to the cleansing of the trade winds and distance from mainland pollutants. It was quite cool and even a short walk up an incline had me out of breath, due to the thin air.
The top of the mountain was bleakly covered with volcanic rock and lava stones, with only sparse vegetation. We donned yellow rainsuits, gloves and helmuts for safety and to provide some warmth from the chilly wind and mist we would be descending through. With the exception of a few hundred yards, we coasted all 22 miles down the twisting switchbacks. Our average speed was probably 10 mph, with Betty and me riding our handbrakes most of the way down due to slower riders in front of us (two honeymoon couples among them). It was a safe ride, with Val serving as "line leader" and Randy blocking the rear of our single-file group with the van-trailer. We stopped at wide spots or did "rolling passes" in the bike lane occasionally to let cars and tour buses of Japanese tourists go by. The ride, including a photo stop, took 1 1/2 hours. Afterwards Betty and I changed clothes (shorts for long pants) and visited the nearby Enchanting Floral Gardens, an exquisitive eight acres of tropical flowers and exotic plants. We took many photos of the lush vegetation.
Photo Op Stop Midway Down
Later that afternoon we drove to Ho'okipa Beach Park, site of the world windsurfing championships and watched the superbly conditioned and skilled windsurfers scream across the wind-driven waves at 30, 40 and maybe more miles per hour. It was a sensational sight. The strong winds that converge on the point there draw professionals from around the world; we spoke to several Germans and Spanish speaking young adults.
We witnessed an incredible display of athletic prowess and courage by one well-built young man who strapped himself into shoes built into a boogie board with skegs at each end. He then hooked the contraption onto 150 feet or so of line that was attached to a parasail-shaped kite perhaps 15-to-18 feet across and 6 feet wide. He manuevered the kite with a trapeze-like bar, which was in turn connected to the boogie board and used its wind-driven pull to literally drag his body across 30 yards of sand and rock to water's edge. Then, with a snap of the controlling trapeze, the kite shot skyward and he was racing across the water under tow at high speed. He zoomed back and forth at speeds faster than the windsurfer boards, occasionally lofting up from the tops of waves 20 or more feet into the air vertically and 50 or more feet laterally. It was one helluva show. I'd never seen anything like it, nor had the several people on the beach we asked. Later, I learned from a native surfer that there are several people on Maui who are experimenting with such parasail devices. This one could reach across the wind or run with the wind, but was unable to beat into the wind.
Lewis Nolan Scopes Out Beach
After an hour or so of fascinating viewing, we drove a few miles up the road toward Hana. But we tired of the rather boring scenery - compared to the surfer beach and what we had seen on our trip to Kuai five years previously - so we turned around and returned to our side of the island, where we had a tasty dinner at Lahaina Coolers (ono in a black bean sauce for me, crabcakes and chicken salad with mangos for Betty). We got back to the condo at 7 p.m., just in time for Betty to take a picture of the setting sun. Again, sitting on our balcony watching the waves and listening to the surf was a delight. The temperatures for sitting out were about perfect, mid to upper 70s with a friendly breeze. We again kept the doors open (screens closed) and slept without the air conditioner running, allowing us to hear the wind and surf all night.
Saturday, our last full day in Maui. Drat. Again started a wonderful day by snorkling in front of our condo and was again charmed by the sight of dozens and dozens of brightly colored reef fish, who seemed to be as curious about me as I was about them. Afterwards, I lazed around the condo and watched the start and turn of a sailboat race - the committee boat and its tender set the line directly in front of our condo. There were eight small cruisers, mainly J boats. Betty sunned at the pool and I repaired to the Kapalua Plantation Golf Club, about 15 minutes away. It is the site of the PGA season-opening Mercedes Championship (formerly sponsored by Lincoln Mercury), featuring invitations to the winners of PGA tournaments from the previous years. Fred Couples has won it several times. The course plays on a hillside cut out of a pineapple plantation and incorporates some steep ravines into the rough. I was paired with two guys from St. Louis and a young man from Los Angeles who was accompanied by his Japanese-American wife. One of the guys from Missouri had an even worse trip out than we did - 25 hours. We were a mediocre foursome at best, with me ending up with the honors most of the time. I hit the ball pretty well, except for some awful mishits off the tee. My short irons were the best they've been in a long time and my putter was hot, allowing me to save a lot of pars with one-putts. Through nine I was at 45, including three triples. Late in the day (I didn't start until 2 p.m. in order to get the $75 twilight rate, which was half the normal rate), it started to mist and then sprinkle. By the time I hit from the 17th tee, it was a hard, blowing rain so I retreated to the well-appointed clubhouse. It was a shame because I had been playing good golf on a tough course (rating of 71.9, slope of 135 and 6,547 yards off the whites) and stood at 78 through 16 holes. Golf Digest rates Plantation as No. 1 in Maui, No. 4 in Hawaii and No. 82 in the U.S. By extrapolating bogeys for the last two holes, I calculated that I could have finished under 90 if my scoring average had at least held for the last two.
I didn't get back to the condo until after 7, where I learned that Betty's day in the sun had been interrupted by on-and-off rain showers all day. So dinner was Japanese takeout again and it was again quite good. We both had the Panko Fried Mahi Mahi, which were dolphin fish filets (not the mammal), breaded and then deep fried.
Things got off to a lousy start early in the morning when we discovered the elevators weren't working. The "emergency house phone" in the lobby yielded a recorded message. So we had to trudge up and down eight flights of stairs with our luggage. At least my golf clubs were already in the trunk of the car. Filled the car with $20 of gas and drove to the airport, about 45 minutes away on the other side of the island. Hawaiian Airlines was not able to check our bags through due to an error message regarding our tickets on the computer system, which we learned later was due to the connecting LA-Memphis flight on Northwest having been cancelled. Surprise. Without the baggage check-through, we had to hassle our luggage off the Hawaiian Airlines conveyor, onto a shuttle bus, back through yet another agricultural inspection station and up to the Northwest counter at another terminal in Honolulu.
At the counter we learned that the key flight for our return - LA to Memphis - no longer existed. Our options were limited. We had planned on spending the day in Honolulu and touring the Battleship Arizona MemoriaL and visiting Waikiki Beach before catching the 4:55 p.m. flight to LA. We could have stayed over a day (at our expense) or taken the 9:45 p.m. flight that night, spent the early morning hours at the LA airport and caught an early flight into Memphis, arriving at 1 p.m. But that seemed like just too many hours traveling and we were ready to get home. So we opted to take connections with the earliest possible arrival in Memphis, a looping series of flights that went from Honolulu to Seattle to Detroit to Memphis. We boarded the packed DC-10 at 12:45 p.m. after a lunch of burgers at the airport (the last decent food we would get in a long time) and promptly sat on the runway for two hours while first one mechanical problem was fixed, and then another. We finally took off at 3 p.m. At least they held the Detroit flight for the many passengers who shared our circumstances. The red eye to Detroit was also packed and I was amazed to see so many passengers seemingly able to sleep. We arrived at 6:50 a.m., only to dash out of one terminal and down the concourse of another to find out the 7 a.m. Memphis flight had already taken off. Luckily, another 7 a.m. flight to Memphis had been delayed a few minutes and because of our jogging (and aggressive pushiness to counter agents), we were able to get on it.
Given the patterned sequence of Northwest screwups, we were not at all surprised to find out that only one of our three checked bags made it to Memphis with us. (The others came in late in the day and were delivered to our home that evening.) After arriving home about 9 a.m., we showered and napped for most of what remained of the morning. It was several days before our bodies recovered from the cramped seating of 19 hours and the time zone changes. Since leaving the condo at 7:15 a.m., we had been traveling nearly 22 hours. Next time, we'll either stage the trip with a stopover or two in California or fly first class. Maui is delightful, but getting there and back this time carried a big pricetag in wear-and-tear on the body.
- Lewis Nolan, June 22, 1998
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