Vacations are necessary in life…every once in a while we need to break away from the busy monotony of our daily routine and experience the wonders that life has to offer. And if we can’t afford to do that, then we must at least make time to appreciate the beauty and adventure available to us within the scope of our everyday lives. After all, we work to live, not live to work.
I was fortunate enough to take a trip to Maui with my bff last week and I thought I’d share a few of the highlights from this isle of delights.
I know it seems odd to comment on the colors of a place, but they were the first thing I noticed about Maui: the cobalt blueness of the ocean, the vivid green shades of the lush vegetation, the deep crimsons and purples of the tropical blossoms. The island is saturated in vibrant hues, pulsing with so much fruitful life that it seems a progeny of rainbows could sprout forth at any moment. No wonder Hawaii is known as the Rainbow State.
There is something exhilarating about speeding through the air on a contraption that suddenly seems woefully precarious as soon as you launch yourself from the platform. I also enjoyed the lovely treescapes whizzing by like life flashing before my eyes, fellow zipliners from an elderly generation pretending to hang themselves with their gear, zip guides making strange animal calls that I feared might elicit a response from an actual animal, and the embarrassment of spinning awkwardly on the zipline and landing on the platform backwards, in tangles, with an utter lack of grace. And, of course, there was that moment when the zip guide said “If you look down, you’ll see some deer” and I misheard and became super excited at the prospect of beer.
Rising from the tropical rainforest and botanical gardens of the Iao Valley is a foliage-shrouded lava-rock pinnacle known as Iao Needle. What captivated me about this site, other than its enchanting beauty, was its rich folklore. Legend has it the Iao Needle was formed when Iao, the beautiful daughter of the demi-god Maui, fell in love with the water sprite Puukamoua. But apparently Maui didn’t think Puukamoua was good enough for his daughter, so he turned Puukamoua into stone – Iao’s Needle. Iao Valley is also said to be the site of a historic battle in which King Kamehameha conquered the Maui army and helped unite the Hawaiian islands. That’s right – Kamehameha is more than just a Dragonball Z attack move!
Biking Down a Volcano
I am not a morning person. So when I woke up at 2:30 a.m. to get ready for the shuttle that would whisk us to the summit of the Haleakala volcano, I was not a happy camper. My friend made things worse by addressing me in a peppy, high-pitched voice, but then made things better by brewing me a cup of coffee. Still, I was disappointed when the “continental breakfast” offered by the bike tour company turned out to be stale packaged pastries, seemingly 100% sugar (“well, this is the island of sugarcane,” the tour guide defended the saccharine snacks), and when the only windbreaker jacket suits available for my friend and me were ridiculous yellow numbers that made us look like giant bananas, while everyone else was suited up in sporty black or blue gear. When the shuttle finally completed its sluggish ascent to the top of the volcano, the sultry Hawaiian air had suddenly plunged below 30 degrees. Still, I stood at the edge of the crater, my body numbing inch by inch in the icy wind, hoping to see the spectacular sunrise boasted by the tour description. I did experience a sublime moment when the first blush of dawn cast the misty clouds with an ethereal pink glow, but that particular morning was too hazy to see the actual sunrise.
Does it sound like I’ve just been complaining so far? Because I have. But all of my grumpy early morning gripes became totally worth it when we finally commenced the actual bike ride (“The volcano was recently updated to an active status,” the tour guide said. “So, you know, if the lava starts flowing…pedal fast!”). In a single file line, we coasted our bikes down the highway, negotiating sharp turns that, if gone awry, might have resulted in us careening off a cliff. It kind of felt like we were in the Tour de France, except we weren’t really pedaling, racing, or using performance-enhancing drugs (unless you count coffee).
The higher elevation looked like Mars with its barren reddish beauty veiled in shimmering mist. The volcanic landscape shifted with the elevations…soon the otherworldly terrain transformed into a dense forest, then into verdant sun-dappled pastures, and finally coastal towns towards the bottom. The views were gorgeous – impossibly blue ocean, an expanse of sugarcane fields, flourishing green vegetation, charming little towns. We stopped for a real breakfast at the lovely Lavender Café. As the air grew warmer, we shed our banana suits like caterpillars casting off their ugly cocoons to reveal themselves as butterflies. And so we flew and floated down the volcano on our bicycles, surrounded by splendor. Every moment a new awakening.
Olivine is a gem-like olive-green mineral found in eroded lava rocks. If you drive down a treacherous one-lane cliff-side highway in Maui, park near a cluster of unmarked trails on the side of the road, and make your way down a dangerous rocky slope, you will be rewarded with a series of natural olivine-encrusted pools amidst a backdrop of stunning lava rock formations and striking blue ocean.
Being the klutz I am, I of course tripped down the rocky slope and cut my leg and toes. After indulging in a few moments of miserable pain, I shifted my focus to my surroundings and let the healing properties of nature work their magic (don’t worry, I also disinfected and bandaged my wound later). The unique shapes and formations of the lava-eroded rocks once again made me feel like I was on a different planet. My friend and I submerged ourselves in a pool and sipped some beers while enjoying the alien landscape, the achingly blue ocean, the crab scuttling into its crevice, the little fishies swimming about, the glories of nature.
Road to Hana
What is Hana? It is a city in East Maui known for The Seven Sacred Pools, a tourist attraction containing…well…seven natural pools and related waterfalls. Yet, as with life, it is not the destination but the journey that leaves its mark. And the Road to Hana is a particularly beautiful journey. The road is bordered on both sides by lush tropical wilderness in 50 shades of green (haha), including moss-engulfed branches arching over the highway, clusters of vines dangling like beaded curtains, and vibrant foliage sprinkled with exotic flowers. As if that weren’t enough, one side of the road also generously offers an ocean view, while the other side is privy to myriad waterfalls that streak the rich mountainside.
On the Road to Hana, we stopped at several waterfalls, hiking down trails and scrambling over rocks (yes, I tripped and hurt myself again!) to watch the sun-haloed water cascade down the mossy cliff into the turquoise pools below. We also stopped to view the ocean at different vantage points (we never tired of looking at the ocean), and to sample the local coconut water. When we finally reached The Seven Sacred Pools, the pools were swarming with tourists. The destination was still very beautiful, but it lacked the idyllic serenity of the other stops on our journey. When the crowd thinned a bit, we jumped into a pool. I floated on my back for a while and stared up at the tree-fringed sky, all other sounds muffled by the water, and emptied my mind.
Life’s a Beach
As I sank my toes into the soft, silky sand and waded into the pristine waters, I decided that life’s a beach. All too often we are on the shore, struggling to survive like fish flopping about on land, when all we really need is to step into the water, look at the world around us, and let the majesty of nature bring us back to life.