Rob Parsons

Mood Swing

A trip to East Maui leads to introspection

by Rob Parsons

August 6 , 2009
(As edited by Maui Time. See Unedited Version)

Photo: Rob Parsons

Clouds shrouded the Alenuihaha Channel between Hana and the Big Island as squalls blew across the choppy ocean waters. Looking down over steeply sloping pastures, we watched the advancing showers race toward the shoreline below, where surging waves from Tropical Storm Lana, far to the south, crashed audibly against the lava rocks, sending cascades of whitewater into coastal tide pools. 

We had no agenda for our two days in Hana, and no expectations of rain or shine. We were ready to soak in either—or, as it turned out, both.

Heather and I left Haiku on Friday afternoon, and encountered little traffic. With more curves than a beauty pageant competition, the Hana Highway is also a bit of a misnomer: to the thousands of rental cars that traverse the scenic, sometimes treacherous road every year, there is little that resembles the fast-moving turnpikes of the Mainland.

Being "on assignment" meant that we took our sweet time, stopping at many of the roadside fruit stands along the way. Smiling Aina, working inside the refurbished school bus at the bustling Twin Falls fruit and smoothie stand, was more than happy to pose for a picture. A bit further, the Huelo Point stop offered a luscious array of fruit, while their hand-lettered sign also advertised crepes. Each roadside stand has unique elements to attract travelers. Colorful signs beckon with sumptuous offerings, ranging from passion fruit to banana bread to smoked BBQ. My favorite sign: "Honk if you're hungry."

I am continually amazed by Hana's botanical lushness, cultural richness, sparkling beaches and unwavering sense of place. Geographic isolation and high real estate prices are two obvious reasons why the region has changed little over the years. 

Cottages now dot the bluff below the ballpark, an adjunct of the Hotel Hana, and a few more luxury homes are tucked into the hillsides. But a golf course proposed years ago never passed the community's muster, and even ownership changes at the ranch and hotel don't bring wholesale alterations.

On this Saturday morning, many donned aloha attire to bid farewell to one of Hana's matriarch's, Gertrude Boerner, who passed away a month short of her 99th birthday. Her son, Chuck, has helped spread Hana's tropical bounty throughout Maui and beyond; his Ono Organic Farms now sets up a daily stand at the parking lot where the original Hasegawa General Store stood before it burned down in 1990.

Heather and I headed away from town, driving through alternating drizzle and sunshine toward Kipahulu. We huddled under the Ho'onanea Farm stand, trying to stay dry while Julie cheerfully made us a veggie taco. We bought a ripe egg fruit, and upon tasting it later, wished we'd bought the entire box.

After passing the Haleakala National Park Center, we were met by a smiling local family on horseback who offered up shakas as we inched by them. We visited the Laulima Farm stand, set amidst a colorful patchwork of terraced gardens. Inside, a stationary bike is hooked up to a blender so customers can generate enough electricity to mix their own smoothies. In the corner stood an enormous jackfruit, nearly as tall as the four-legged stool beside it. "Yeah," said the counter girl, recognizing my astonishment, "that one weighs more than 50 pounds."

The lush jungle suddenly gave way to the bare cliff-side, where repairs from the October 2006 earthquake required a protracted road closure. Now, the wire draping on the pali resembles a giant hukilau net, as if a Hawaiian demigod hung it there to dry.

We parked under a hala tree near Alelele bridge, where the stream waters trickle over smooth river rocks and into the crashing waves. Pausing to honor the sacredness of the place, we wrapped small stones in ti leaves and murmured our thanks to the ancestors of this land.

A nearly hidden path brought us to the foot of Alelele Falls, water cascading 70 feet down into the pool before us. With little warning, clouds covered the sun. Winds swept into the valley, bringing sheets of rain and sending us scampering to the lee side of the valley wall and into a small grotto overhang. In minutes, the weather cleared again. We traipsed out, pausing to pick a couple maunaloa flowers, a sweet pea prized by lei-makers. Heather hung one pink flower on each of her gold hoop earrings, a delicate reminder of our adventure-filled hike.

Dinner at Karen Davidson's home above Mu'olea Point featured a fabulous baked pumpkin from the Hana Fresh garden stand in front of the Hana Health Center. Satiated, we retired to bed in her art studio. Colorful paper sculptures of florals, landscapes and abstracts adorned the walls above, eliciting wildly imaginative dreams while squalls beat intermittent rhythms on the roof.

Sunday morning featured a whim of a recipe conceived the night before: pumpkin pancakes with fresh mangoes! As we ate, Karen asked, "Doesn't it seem as though the recession is starting to ease up?"

"Not really," I answered, unable to conjure any clear indications of a positive upturn.

Of the many roadside signs we observed the previous day, one in particular caught my eye. On a sharp turn between Hana and Kipahulu, a yellow reflector was affixed to a large mango tree. In the center of the reflector, a bumper sticker in black gothic letters offered a one-word mantra: "Change."

Change needn't be scary or imposing. There is a homeostasis in the unfolding magic; in Hana, the molecules of change are imbued within the ginger blossoms, moist breezes, smiles of strangers and even the lava rocks.

And in Heavenly Hana, as sublime and colorful as a ripe mango, change is good.