Thursday, July 5, 2012

Hawaii (Part 2) Maui

We looked out the window as our plane was descending over Maui and I think we both instantly knew that this was the place we were going to live. We landed at Kahului airport and had to find a taxi to take us to our hostel. On both Oahu and Maui luggage is not allowed on buses. This is a real pain for tourists because taxies can be very expensive. When we told our taxi driver the name of our hostel his reply was, "You do NOT want to stay there!" This was very disconcerting but we really had no choice. This was the only place we could find on short notice. Every room on the island seemed to be booked up because it was Valentine's week. The taxi driver was so upset that we were staying there that he offered to wait in the parking lot while we checked out the room in case we wanted him to take us someplace else. The name of the Hostel was, The Maui Wowie and the "Wow" part was pretty accurate but not in a good way. We had a tiny dark room with bunk beds on one end of the room and a bathroom with no door on the other. There was no room to turn around. We could only move forward or backward-no side to side. We had to literally climb over the toilet to get into the shower but we had stayed in worse places so we chose to stick it out. This would be our home until we found a permanent place to live. Because it was so unpleasant, it actually motivated us, even more, to find a place as soon as possible. We got on the bus one day so that Darren could apply for a job in town and then we realized we had gotten on the wrong bus and we wound up in Lahaina. 
Lahaina's Famous Banyan Tree covers 2/3 of an acre

Our fabulous room at the Maui Wowie
We liked it so much that we decided that's where we would focus our search for jobs and a place to live. Desperate to get out of the Mowie Wowie, which proved to be more of a halfway house than a hostel based on the people who were living there full-time, we took the first and only place we looked at. It was a cute little 500 sq ft. cottage in Lahaina with an ocean view. In Fiji, I had doodled a picture of our imaginary Hawaiian home in Darren's notebook. The cottage was exactly like my drawing except for one minor inaccuracy. I drew the ocean in our backyard and a view of the mountains in the front. The cottage actually had an ocean view in the front and the West Maui Mountains directly behind it. As if the ocean view wasn't excitement enough, it also had a washer and dryer, my dream come true. No more washing clothes in a bucket or the sink only for them to be blown away in the wind never to be seen again (see the blog post, Thailand). The cottage came fully furnished which was perfect since we had nothing but a week's worth of tattered clothing and a large collection of ketchup packets. We weren't allowed to get on the bus with our big backpacks so I reserved a rental car. The day we were supposed to move to Lahaina they called and said they ran out of cars so we called a taxi company and they told us it would be $70 to take us from where we were staying in Wailuku over to our new place in Lahaina. Using our backpacker ingenuity, we walked to another hostel down the street and found a nice French girl named Miryam with a rental car and offered her $20 to drive us to Lahaina. She was happy to do it because she hadn't figured out what she was going to do that day and hadn't seen Lahaina yet. Miryam was also on a world trip and we discovered that we had visited many of the same countries at the same time and here we were crossing paths again. She drove us to our new home, gave us big hugs as if our journey had been three weeks rather than thirty minutes, and we dropped our backpacks. Darren, having worked for a moving company for fourteen years proclaimed it was the easiest move ever. Unpacking took about five minutes. It felt nice to put clothes in a drawer instead of digging through a backpack. It also felt good to know we had a place to sleep with running water for an indefinite amount of time. No more daily searches to find a place to stay for the night. We had been in Maui for only a week and had already found a place to live. The next day Darren got a job and he started the day after that. Things had fallen into place so much easier than we had expected. When we quit our jobs in New York some people thought we were crazy to do such a thing "in this economy." But it all worked out. We had expected it would take weeks or even months to get settled but thanks to the motivation of fear of being stuck at the Maui Wowie, it took us only one week.

Then we got bad news from home that our friend Jan had suffered a stroke and we suddenly felt too far away. With Darren working already, we decided that I should fly back to New York. I wanted to visit Jan and I also needed to retrieve some of our important documents (In Hawaii you need a birth certificate, marriage license, and social security card just to apply for a license!) and bring back some appropriate clothing if we expected to hold down jobs. The best part about going back to New York was spending time with my friends and the worst part was leaving again. 

Double Rainbow in our backyard
Back in Maui, we had begun settling. Transitioning back into settled living was the hardest part about traveling. We had to get the cable and electricity set up and started paying rent and bills for the first time in over four months. The only bills we kept paying while we were traveling were my seemingly never-ending student loans. As usual, we didn't have much of a plan except that we signed a six-month lease so we would stay here for six months to a year or maybe forever.

Is this the Real World?
People have asked, "When are you going to come back to the real world?" I hadn't realized we had left "the real world." If anything, I would say that we entered the real world when we set out on this journey. We left a country where people will actually wait in line overnight so they can get the newest iPhone and we visited places where people wait in line for food and water. People in the United States will drive around a parking lot for ten minutes just so they can get the closest parking spot to the store while people in South Africa will walk barefoot through the mountains for ten miles under the merciless African sun every day just to get to work. I am grateful for my bed because I do not have to sleep on a dirt floor. I am grateful for my faucet because I can turn a knob and clean water will come out. I am grateful for my lamp because I flip a switch and there will be light. I do not NEED an iPhone. I will survive without one. The people who like to refer to the United States as the real world should feel very fortunate that they get to live in the United States and not in the real world.
Or is this the Real World? (This is me in Nepal)

People say things like, "I wish I could do that" and my answer would be, "You can." Barring any medical issues that might prevent you from traveling, I will tell you exactly how we did it and how you can do it too. We could have taken the money we saved for this trip and put a down payment on a house or bought a car but this is something we had always wanted to do. We worked really hard to get it and found a way to make it happen. We wanted this experience and didn't want to regret not going after it. None of the money was gifted to us. We never went on a honeymoon so after we finished paying off the debt from our very small wedding we went into "Saving Mode" (I will give the credit to my brother for coming up with this term). We remained completely focused on our goal and took the following steps which I think would make Suze Orman proud: We worked our full-time jobs plus took on as many extra side jobs as possible. We sold off as many of our possessions as we could. We lived well below our means in a one-bedroom four flight walk-up apartment in Queens. We rented so we did not have a mortgage. Luckily, my friend Jessie needed to find a place to live so we were able to sign our lease over to her which prevented us from breaking the lease and losing our security deposit. It also helped a lot that our friends Jan and Woody, who own one of the largest collections of camping and backpacking gear I have ever seen, loaned us backpacks and other gear worth over $600. Darren rode his bike to work every day. I took the subway. We ate all of our meals at home. We both packed lunches that we brought to work with us. We did not make any purchases that were not trip related. This is not to say that we never went out and had fun. There are plenty of free activities that we took advantage of like the free movies in Bryant Park and Chelsea Piers every week, free yoga in Bryant Park, free concerts in Central Park, free days at museums, etc... We could have made a million excuses to not go on this trip. It also helped that we don't have children. I hear they can be quite expensive but there are plenty of families who travel with children and I think it's fantastic if you can manage it. It might not have worked out in Hawaii and yes it was a risk but if we didn't take it we would have regretted it and would have always wondered what might have happened. Yes, so many things could have gone wrong but they didn't. We bought travel insurance that we fortunately never had to use. In Hawaii, if you work more than 20 hours a week it is mandatory that your employer provides Health Insurance. So Darren has health insurance for the first time ever and ironically he went from never getting sick to being sick for the first two months we were here. In four months in paradise, we've actually been sick and injured more times than our four months abroad. 
Sea Urchins-Do Not step on them!
Travel Tip #1: If you are surfing in Hawaii and you accidentally step on a sea urchin and you have eleven poisonous spines embedded in your foot, you should immediately soak your foot in a mixture of hot water and vinegar to suck out the poison and break down the spines. If your leg and mouth go numb you are one of the lucky people, like me, who is having a rare and severe allergic reaction.

Penelope Cruiser 
Adjusting to country living was challenging. It is very difficult living in the country and not having a car. It's not like we could just walk across the street to the grocery store like we did in New York. We couldn't just hop on a subway that comes every five minutes. There is a bus that comes once every hour so a trip to the grocery store can be a four-hour adventure. Finding a used car proved to be more difficult than finding a place to live or jobs. So first we bought some cheap used beach cruisers. They were all black which isn't really my style so I bought some cans of spray paint and gave my bike, Penelope Cruiser, a new look (Darren's bike is Tom Cruiser). After two months of taking the bus back and forth across the island to car dealerships, riding our bikes and filling our baskets with groceries, and (mom, don't read this part) the occasional hitch-hike into town, we finally found a car sold by the owner. Once we got the car we were able to get some fun toys like a stand-up paddleboard and surfboards so that we could really enjoy living in Hawaii. Once I was back from New York I also started looking for work. I applied for one job and got hired the same day. This was the same day we found our car so everything fell into place perfectly. Without the car, I wouldn't have been able to take the job because I work nights and it would be too dangerous for me to ride my bike home on the highway with no street lights. For all of our fears and apprehension and everyone's doubts about giving up our life, we took a risk and traded our life for one that was much better. I got a job with a company working as an Event Photographer. I commute one and a half miles to work and then I stand on the beach at sunset, usually at a luau and I take photographs of happy honeymooners and vacationing families. Sometimes I get to work at a big corporate event at a fancy hotel and I take photos of more happy people enjoying themselves. Other times I get to go on snorkeling or hiking trips and take more pictures of happy tourists. Darren rides his bike along the beach to get the work and watches all the sea turtles swimming by. His commute by bicycle is about ten minutes. He picks mangoes off the trees or the ground on his way home every day. We put mangoes on our breakfast, lunch, and dinner!
In the winter the best activity to do on Maui is to go on a whale-watching trip. We can see the whales from our front porch but getting out on a boat is even better. Every year starting in late September the Humpback Whales come all the way from Alaska to Maui to mate and give birth. We took a boat trip with the Pacific Whale Foundation, a non-profit whose mission is to protect our oceans through science and advocacy. Within three minutes of leaving the dock, we had whales swimming all around our boat. It was amazing. I think they were showing off for us by exhibiting some terrific whale behaviors like breaching, head slaps and tail slaps.

Breaching Humpback Whale
Obviously, another thing you have to do when you're in Hawaii is experience a luau. A Luau is a traditional Hawaiian feast with entertainment like hula or fire dancing. Because we still had our New York driver's licenses we were able to pretend to be tourists and got the whale watching trip and luau for free by sitting through timeshare presentations.

Travel Tip #2: Spend 60-90 minutes watching a timeshare presentation and get all of your activities for free. This includes luau's, dinner cruises, snorkel trips, whale watching trips and more...

Spinner Dolphins
One of Darren's coworkers has a sister who works for the Pacific Whale Foundation and she gave complimentary tickets for a dinner cruise so we got to do some more whale watching again. She also gave us free tickets for a snorkeling trip to Lanai. I have very bad luck with snorkeling trips. Our big trip to the Great Barrier Reef was canceled when we were in Australia (see post: Australia) and then Darren scheduled the snorkeling trip to Lanai for my birthday and it was canceled due to high winds. We decided to go on a cliff walk since our trip was canceled and I managed to get blown over by the high winds and sliced off the top of my toe on a lava rock. I am convinced the island is attacking my feet. In addition to stepping on the sea urchin and the lava rock incident, I have also had a giant thorn and a piece of glass go through my flip flop and stab me in the bottom of the foot. There was also a mysterious incident where I went for a run and came back with a sock full of blood. I am still baffled by this one. Someone, please send steel-toe boots.

Finally, my bad luck streak was broken and we were able to go on a rescheduled trip ten days later and we had perfect conditions. It's sad to see the whales leave in the summertime but when the whales swim to Alaska the dolphins come for the summer. On our way to Lanai, we had about one hundred Spinner Dolphins swimming alongside our boat! They also followed us on our way back to Maui along with a family of about five Bottlenose Dolphins. 
Bottlenose Dolphin
Another thing I'd recommend doing on Maui is driving the Road to Hana. This is basically the long winding road that takes you around the entire island along the coast. You can drive it in seven hours without stopping but the whole point is to make multiple stops along the way to see all of the beaches and waterfalls and hiking trails. The first stop is Twin Falls. An easy hiking trail will lead you to two separate falls. In order to get to the second, and in my opinion, a better waterfall you will need to wade through water that is knee to waist deep so plan accordingly. The second stop is Waikamoi which has a 70' waterfall. The next stop is the Garden of Eden. It's an arboretum with many beautiful walking paths filled with indigenous tropical plants and trees. There are some terrific views of waterfalls and its claim to fame is that it overlooks the exact spot that was filmed in the opening scene to Jurassic Park. (see photo below)

Garden of Eden

Seven Sacred Pools
Stop number four is the Ke'anae Peninsula where you can explore the magical shoreline. Stop number five is Pua'a Ka'. It has another 20' waterfall and some fun swimming holes. There's also another more powerful waterfall up higher but we did not get to see it because the rain prevented us from hiking the slippery rocks. The next stop is Waianapanapa and it's just outside of Hana. It's a special family-run place with incredible views, pounding surf, a blowhole, caves, and a pebbly black sand beach. There is also a trail that leads you through the Hau forest. Before entering the forest there is a sign that tells the story of the Ancient Princess who was murdered there so there is a little bit of haunted creepiness to the trail that makes it a little more exciting. If you want to camp overnight at Waianapanapa you must apply for a permit three days in advance. We didn't know about this until we got there so we camped overnight in Haleakala National Park which is a little bit further up the road. A permit is only $10 and we camped beside the ocean and under the biggest moon I've ever seen.

My favorite spot on the whole road to Hana trip was the Seven Sacred Pools which are also called the 'Ohe'o Gulch and are located within Haleakala National Park. They are the embodiment of paradise.

Seven Sacred Pools
Will Hawaii be our last stop or will this just be part of a never-ending journey? Right now, we are not sure but we're going to enjoy it while it lasts.

*As of today, Jan is making an amazing recovery. To the astonishment of all of her doctors, but not surprising to her friends who all know what an amazingly strong and determined person she is, she was home from the hospital three months before they had predicted. She has been working hard to make a full recovery with the goal of visiting us in Hawaii. 

Some travel inspiration

180 degrees South-By Jeff Johnson and Woodshed Films
A Map for Saturday- By Brook Silva-Braga

Little Gypsy- By Roxy Freeman
Ultra Marathon Man- By Dean Karnazes
The 4 Hour Work Week- By Timothy Ferris


  1. Thanks for sharing your journey. Inspirational.

  2. You should send this to the mayor travel commission. They should add it to their brochure or something.

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