Thursday, September 8, 2011

Imaginary Postcards (pt. 1)

Our plane is circling above the island, making our final descent into Kahului, but through the cabin windows, there isn't much to see. Clouds. The darkening sky. Adriana has the window seat and Ji is on the aisle. It seems I have made a sacrifice by volunteering for the middle, but I only wanted a guaranteed sweet spot for the return trip. I am planning for the end before anything has begun. A few moments earlier, Adriana was singing "Knocking on Heaven's Door." We have not yet seen the island, but as we descend, Adriana says, "I want to get pregnant here."


Second waterfall. We hid our cameras in the forest after this. Photo by Ji.

Dear Lei,

Today we went chasing waterfalls and Adriana surprised me. The guidebook described the hike to the Four Falls of Na'ili'ili-Haele as an "adventure" -- a category that is distinct from an "activity." On the trail to the first waterfall, through the bamboo forest and across the wooden plank that served as a bridge, families were turning around. "The waterfalls here aren't any good," a mother tried to reassure her young son who was too tiny for the rock-climbing.

The first waterfall was small, but after scaling the slippery rocks, we were rewarded with the gorgeous second waterfall. Before I could take in my surroundings, Adriana jumped into the pool. She glided through the water, a bespectacled mermaid home to breed.

The pool, the falls, the pebble shore, the birds chirping in the bamboo forest: it was enough for me. More rock-climbing and a trip up a rickety rope ladder attached to a 12-ft rock face would be required to reach the third waterfall. I was ready to call it a day here (guidebook: "This is as far as most people will go"), but Adriana was already out of the water and climbing. "If gyms were this spectacular, I'd be so fit." I remembered the time I brought her once, years ago, to my Burn & Firm class at the Hollywood YMCA. Twenty minutes in, she was balled up in a corner of the gymnasium, head between her legs, hyperventilating under the fluorescent lights. Who was this creature now, climbing waterfalls barefoot in a hot pink bikini, as I slipped around in my waterlogged tennis shoes? Reluctantly, I followed her up the side of the rock.

The hike was worth it. At the top of the third waterfall -- more breathtaking than the previous two -- we took turns jumping into the pool 30 feet below. We hadn't packed any food, but it didn't matter. As we splashed around, perfectly ripe passion fruit floated toward us. We'd suck out the oozy flesh and watch the discarded rinds drift away with the current.

"I'm done," said Adriana as she floated in the pool. "If this vacation ended now, I would be completely satisfied." It was only Day 2.

So . . . have you killed my plants yet?


Photo by Adriana

Dear Mom,

I am in Maui. I don't think I told you I was going. Sometimes I feel guilty when I tell you about my travel plans because you've never been anywhere, and I know it's not for lack of interest. When I visit anyplace other than Phoenix, I know I am making a choice. I wonder if that occurs to you too -- even though I don't think you've ever said anything to make me feel bad about it.

We stopped for barbecue today at a shack on the side of the Hana Highway. I love driving here and it makes me think of my other favorite drives -- the Pacific Coast Highway through central California and Australia's Great Ocean Road. Not that Hana looks anything like those places -- it's just that same feeling of otherworldliness. There is a waterfall every few miles. The guidebook described a condition that is common among vacationers: beauty fatigue. It hasn't happened to me yet.

The barbecue stand was out of mahi-mahi. We didn't think we'd make it to Hana before sunset and the guidebook warned that our food options were limited. Jesse, the islander behind the grill holding a Heineken says, "Chicken or Pork?" After explaining that I don't usually eat meat, he says, "What? You come all the way to Maui and you not gonna try the pork?" He has a point. "Pork," I say. He piles my plate high with the stuff and I carry it to the long wooden picnic table.

Did you cook pork when I was a kid? Because I don't remember it ever tasting this way -- I don't think it would've been possible. I tell myself that it's Hawaii falling apart in my mouth and it's paradise. With some help from Ji and Adriana, my plate is cleaned.

How is James doing?


Photo by Adriana

Dear Chris,

Today my camera fell off a cliff.

Yesterday, we met a guy working a roadside barbecue stand who offered to show us around Hana. When we asked how much it would cost, he said, "Spend the day with me and at the end, you decide what it's worth." He told us his Hawaiian name at least three times, but I can't remember it. He also goes by Jesse, so that's what we call him.

The first place he took us was the Blue Pool, which is on private property, but Jesse's somehow related to the owners, so it was OK. In fact, I've noticed that he addresses most everyone we meet as "brother" or "cousin." The water in the Blue Pool is spring-fed. We took turns drinking from it and then letting the water pour over our heads, the force of it making our skulls vibrate. "This is your baptism," Jesse said.

He drove our rental car through the winding roads of Hana with a Heineken between his legs. I don't know why this seemed acceptable, but it was. Maybe because my father always drove with a beer between his legs? Maybe because the sky was full of rainbows? We made stops for waterfalls, beaches, and to gather food: fruit, banana bread, avocado, and once, a salad (which involved Jesse hacking away at the brush along the side of the road). We listened to the Knife ("This sounds like music for people on Ecstasy") and Bo Diddley, which Jesse liked better, though he kept singing over the vocals with impromptu island songs.

He wanted to cook us fish for dinner, which meant fish would need to be caught. This meant scaling the side of a cliff, the dirt crumbling beneath our feet as we took tentative steps, clinging to whatever protuberances we could grip in the wall of rock. We eventually settled into a perch and watched Jesse stand in a tree for a half-hour, surveying the surf below, scanning the tide pools for the telltale silvery glint. We watched the Heineken bottle slip from his hands and crash a few hundred feet below. And then he was off, armed with a backpack and a net, bounding down the side of the cliff like a kid playing hopscotch.

We watched the water and waited. Sometimes Jesse was visible among the rocks, but mostly he'd disappear for long stretches of time. Silently, we considered what we'd do if he didn't come back -- how would we get out of this place without his guidance? -- but we kept our fears to ourselves. When the silver camera slipped from my hands and fell soundlessly below, we all thought that it could have been any of us. When I moved to look over the cliff for any sign of it -- maybe it got caught on a rock, I thought -- Adriana said, "No. Don't. Stop."

Nearly an hour passed before Jesse returned to us, his blue backpack heavy with fish. "Sorry that took so long," he said. "You hungry?" We went back to a home that wasn't his -- another cousin? -- in a neighborhood that felt a little like South L.A., but with a better view, and watched him fry the fish whole. We ate fish eyes and drank beer on a stranger's porch as the sun set over Hana. Stuffed, we left Jesse with a fistful of cash.

How is the pizza in New Haven?

(to be continued)


Little Kenny said...

Awesome. I've enjoyed all the Hawaiian islands I've been too, but Maui is my second home. Don't know why. Thanks for bringing some aloha back with you and for sharing it. Mahalo.

Judy Gloom said...

Thanks, Ken! Next stop is Kauai....