Wednesday, July 2, 2014

5000 Light-Years from Home

We covered a lot of ground while in Maui, but there's a good deal left for next time, if there is one.  Visited Kihei, Maalaea harbor (the GPS led us to a sugar cane field, but the harbor was two blocks away), and especially the old royal capital and port city of Lahaina.  The park behind the courthouse barely contains a huge banyan tree colony, where we incredulously watched a man carry a large silver fish over his shoulder on his way from the dock.  What was he going to do with it?  It would have fit into a minivan, but not into any cooler.  We dived into Hawaiian history in the courthouse museum and saw where King Kahehamea had his motu, or residence, and where the royal taro patch was.  OK, I like this stuff.


Actually the national flag of Hawaii, before it was adopted as the state flag

We made sure to stop at the Ma'la Oceanside Tavern, which was very much at the edge of the ocean, a little north of town, where the green turtles that are said to hang out around the rocks outside; they certainly were there.  About a half-dozen of the creatures were going bottoms-up, raising their heads to observe us with big dark eyes, and turning on their sides to give flipper waves.  I did get close to one, within a few feet, in the water in front of our hotel, and he gave me the once-over and a flipper wave, too.

Where the green turtles are

Later that night, we attended a sold-out installment of the Old Lahaina Luau, because how could you miss that?  There were demonstrations beforehand about casting fish nets, beating out bark cloth and drumming.  The dancers, who portrayed succeeding periods in history from the original Tahitians to the missionary period (as you can imagine, there were a lot more clothes in the latter than in the former), were ridiculously young, fit and tan.  Add drums, fire torches and several Mai Tais, and I guarantee a fine evening.

A passionate dedication to quality was clear in various enterprises, beginning with the luau production, and continuing through restaurants such as the Oceanside and the Monkeypod.  We were at the latter, in Wailea, twice and both times the entertainment was excellent.  We did not fail to add to the tip bucket, either.  Our favorite drink there was the No Ka Oi, which translates as "It's the best."  Featuring a lilykoi and honey syrup, it was almost to pretty to... all right, it wasn't.  They sell fast because they disappear fast.

Go ahead, have a couple

Other superior spots: Ululani's Shave Ice, purported to be the best on the islands.  Of course we had to try a few others for comparison before finding this one, around the corner from Mick Fleetwood's restaurant (they say he stops in to jam frequently, and is quite eccentric), and yes, it is the best.  It would take months to try all the flavor combinations.  Like gelato in Italy, this is the right stuff.  And, the Ocean Vodka distillery, up about 1000 feet above sea level near Kula, which is on the way to the volcano.  Their goal is not only a to make a superb product, but to be as self-sufficient as possible.  The owners designed and built the building, planted about two dozen varieties of organic sugar cane on several re-graded fields, and do the graphics in-house (the artist, Kai, was our tour guide).  We saw how family members hand-bottle, label and pack.  The containers come from Ontario, but almost everything else is local or done by them.  Sugar cane is normally a destructive, chemical- and machine-intensive enterprise, but they will have none of that.  The fields are not burned, as is usual, and the stands are carefully harvested by hand so that they regrow; the standard method is to tear up the roots and replant for each crop.  Chickens take care of the bugs.  The water used is the essential story, though:  it is drawn from the ocean floor at the edge of the Big Island by a Japanese company, which normally sells it back in Japan for quite a price, since it is perfectly balanced to the chemistry of the human body.  The water originated from Greenland around 2000 years ago, and travelled along the worldwide ocean current, very slow and deep, since it's very cold, to pass by Hawaii.  It's desalinated, of course, but retains the ancient minerals.  The only ancient glacier water, organic sugar cane vodka in the world, as you can imagine.

The old banyan

And the goat farm?  It's almost next door to the distillery, and is also completely organic.  Old surfboards are everywhere, as are hundreds of extremely contented goats.  Their goat cheese is used by the high-end restaurants on the islands and in far-away metropolitan areas of the mainland.  It is exquisite.  Maybe we were distracted by the wide-open scenery or the funny old surfboards or the lingering taste of the samples, but while we were petting the one- to four-week-old babies, one slid his head through the wide mesh of the fence and quietly chewed on N.'s new white shorts.  I didn't think it was possible to have a better day than we were having, but that was a hoot!

Since we couldn't figure out how to just stay so we could keep on learning about and enjoying this island, it was eventually time to say aloha.  Our driver back to the airport was quite a character who had more stories than he could fit in to the 45 minutes, and the trip back was long but problem-free.  We can't imagine now not having gone there at least once.




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