When I am old, I shall live by the sea.
This summer marks my 30th year of going to Hawaii for vacation. We don’t go every year; although one lucky year, we went twice. Of all the islands I’ve visited, Maui is my favorite. We returned there this trip, after an absence of 13 years. Things haven’t changed very much, other than the island has gotten more built up and there are more people than ever. But Maui is still, at its heart, a small town that happens to be spread out over an island.
I’ve been to Kauai, which I love, too. But it’s small. Kauai offers lots of diverse climate and breathtaking scenery. I find that once I’ve done the things that Kauai is known for, I don’t want to go back and do them again. At least, not that visit.
We returned to Kauai after 20 years last year, not having been since the island was devastated by Hurricane Iniki. Things were much changed, as if business used Iniki as an excuse to clear away a lot of the old ways that were no longer working. But the old familiar favorites were still to be found, as well.
In the past, I used to love to go to Shipwreck Beach. The only way to get there back then was to drive through a cane field. The beach wasn’t safe for swimming, due to the strong currents and riptides. There was a very large rock that I used to lie on and watch the water.
Now there’s a Sheraton and the ocean has been somehow tamed.
But Spouting Horn and the gimcrack gift stands are still there, unchanged. Waimea Canyon is as breathtaking as ever. Hanapepe is untouched by the passage of time, as if preserved in amber. Not usually ones for touristy types of things, we took a cruise, up the Waimea River to the Fern Grotto. We’d done it before, on one of our earlier visits, when it was still possible to go inside the grotto. It is no longer. Recent heavy rains collapsed the hillside and it is now unsafe to do so. We had to comfort ourselves with standing on a wooden platform about 40 feet in front of the grotto itself. But it was a nice day for a ride on the river and there was a bonus hula lesson.
Then, there’s the Big Island—the island of Hawaii. There’s a stretch of road that runs through fields of black lava just south of the turn to Waimea, where there are no street lights and everything is pitch black. The sky is like velvet. One of my favorite things to do late at night when there are no other cars around is to turn off the headlights and the interior lights of my car and sail, as if invisible, through the inky blackness.
We have a friend who works at one of the resorts on the Kona coast; she gets us the kama’aina rate there. She even got me a staff badge with my name on it so that I could go pretty much anywhere I liked within the resort. My favorite beach on the Big Island is Hapuna Beach. It’s wide and shallow a long way out, so it has no waves, no rocks and the water is usually warmer than at the other beaches on the island.
Ka Lae. Ka Lae is the tip of the Big Island and the southernmost point of the US. The beach is covered by green sand, due to the olivine that was formed by the volcanic eruptions and then eroded into sand by the ceaseless action of the waves. There’s nothing but open ocean at Ka Lae, no land until you get to Antarctica. Being there is like being at the End Of The World. The ocean shows its power and might. Standing there, on the green sand and watching the majestic waves, I felt so small and insignificant. I wanted to spend a lifetime there, just watching the ocean.
I think of Oahu as more of a transit point; in the old days, we used to have to change planes in Honolulu to get to the other islands. Once, coming back after a hurricane, there were no direct flights back to the mainland so we spent some time touring Honolulu waiting for our next flight.
There was one trip when we stayed in Waikiki for some nights. I settled into a routine—I would have my breakfast in the open-air lobby of the Hilton and then go to the beach, where I would rent a beach chair and an umbrella from the beach boys there. I would speak pidgin with them, much to the chagrin and utter embarrassment of my teenaged daughter.
I would set up my little encampment on the beach, equidistant from the hotel and the water and read and people watch. There were pasty-faced, fat-bottomed tourists from the mid-west carrying on loud conversations on their cell phones. And the subject matter—Aunt Myrna’s hernia, Uncle Henry’s hemorrhoids. I wanted to scream at them as they marched down the beach, ‘Look around you. You’re in Paradise. Talk on the phone later.’ But I didn’t.
There were 20-something white males with large tribal tattoos covering their arms and shoulders. What tribes do they belong to, I wondered. Epic beer consumption does not a tribe make.
I don’t much care for Honolulu. It’s just another big city with horrendous traffic, but really nice weather. Except for the hurricanes and tropical storms.
This brings me back to Maui. My first return in some time. It was comforting to do the things we’ve always done on our frequent visits there. We even stayed at the place we stayed when we first began visiting. Although much upgraded and refreshed, it’s still familiar. There are more conveniences—a market across the street—but things are pretty much the same.
We went to my favorite beach. Not just my favorite beach on Maui. My favorite beach in all of Hawaii. Disappointingly, the foliage has been groomed so that the high-end villas that have been newly-built facing it may have uninterrupted ocean views. But the basics of the beach are still the same—sand, water, waves, available rocks to weight down the blankets. And limited parking to control crowding. My favorite time of day is the late afternoon, when most of the crowds have gone, the heat has dissipated and the sun sparkles on the water like diamonds.
We like being on Maui for July 4th. Lahaina is like every other small town on that day. The main street is closed to traffic, there’s a fair in the park, rides for the kids and public fireworks from a barge in the harbor. We ditched the car and took a bus. Parking was near impossible that night.
We ate in the familiar spots, drank the usual drinks, marveled at the sunsets, the near-daily rain showers and the rainbows. I caught up with my former dive buddy. He’s a lot grayer, but still teaching tourists the fundamentals of scuba.
Time basically stops for me when I’m in the Islands. I gaze out at the endless Pacific and the limitless sky and think about nothing. Except this…
When I am old, I shall live by the sea.