Despite being exhausted and more than elated to be at the hotel with a comfy king sized bed to sleep in, I tossed and turned the four or five hours I slept. My body was in an airport hotel in Maui, but my mind played tricks on me, making me think I was back home and just having a bad night sleeping. Sometimes I would slowly open my eyes and remember where I was, and other times my body would jerk quickly like I was falling from a twenty story building, arms flailing, air catching in my throat. I shot my arm out to the other side of the bed, reaching for my boyfriend but he was not there. The next time I woke up I was sleeping diagonally in the bed with one leg half off the bed, air conditioning humming loudly at the other side of the room.
I awoke with the familiar pressure in my bladder signaling to me that I needed to go pee, however, after a largely unsuccessful night’s rest I lay there for quite some time wishing it away. Grudgingly, I stumbled to the bathroom, groggy and with no glasses on, arms outstretched attempting to find the light switch. Checking my phone, I was shocked to see it was 2:30 am, only a half hour before my alarm was set to go off. Excitement rushed my body as I remembered my plans for the day: venture to the Haleakala Crater to see the sunrise and make my way to the west side of Maui where I would be staying for the rest of my trip.
And then dread filled my mind. I would be driving a huge unfamiliar vehicle in the dark, traveling in a completely unknown place, alone, and would reach an elevation of over 10,000 feet on a narrow road to get to the top of the crater. My next thought was simply, “what an adventure.” I quickly brushed my teeth, dressed, packed up my things, and headed down to the lobby, anxiety still rushing through my veins but slowly transforming to exhilaration.
The road was lonely, stretched out before me for miles but I was only able to see as far as my headlights would show me. A few cars came up behind me fast, quickly passing me; reminding me of my tourist classification. The woman at the desk gave me very clear directions and in the moment I understood them. As I was driving I realized I was going in the wrong direction and missed a turn about ten miles back. Swinging wide right, whipping the Jeep around in the middle of the road, I hit the gas and headed back to the right set of lights to go left towards the crater.
Time went by fast, and I started to wake up more and more, now realizing how much of a daze I was still in when I checked out of the hotel. A dark brown national park sign came into view with white painted letters announcing I had reached Haleakala National Park. “Crater 22 miles. No food. No gas.” The road almost immediately started winding and narrowing. It was still dark out, my lights shining ahead and my eyes straining. After miles and miles of winding road and my heart catching every time I went a little too fast around a corner, I finally came to a place to pay to enter the park. And then I drove more miles and miles, ascending into darkness.
I parked the car and had no idea where to go since it was still completely pitch black. I lit the flashlight on my iPhone, technology starkly contrasted with the nature I was consumed by, atop a crater 10,000 feet in the air. The air whipped my cheeks and legs as I opened the door stepping onto the gravel. My shirt pushed up by the force of the wind, my legs instantly becoming cold. Why did I wear these? I saw groups of people walking behind me to the left, so I followed, up concrete stairs where a building emerged.
The building blocked some of the wind and an orange glow lined the edges of it. I walked in almost running into other spectators awaiting the sunset, all of us hushed and moving around slowly in the cramped building. You entered at the back of the building with the opposite side made up of big windows. Dark shapes, all different sizes, lined up against the windows with some of their noses pushed up against the clear, cold glass. I wandered outside of the building, taking a left to where I saw no one. I stepped to the front of the building and the wind pushed into my throat, making me catch my breath and my eyes instantly watering.
The view was starting to reveal itself, the orange glow turning a lighter orange and beginning to turn yellow. I stood there with the wind pushing me back into the building and at one point, crouched against it. Eventually, I went to the other side and was sheltered by the wind by everyone surrounding me, some with big blankets wrapped around them, the corners flapping violently. The sun slowly rose, shining onto the clouds we all looked down on. I was in awe, appreciating every new morning, every breath, every experience. This was life.
The venture back down the crater was tedious and looked completely different than I had expected. It was now 6:00 am or so, and after watching the sunrise I decided to get some breakfast at the Kula Lodge. I read online they had coconut syrup, which of course caught my attention. While driving to the summit of the crater, I realized how close I was to the edge, many times the road missing a desired guard rail. On the way down, it shocked me how tight some of the corners were, how narrow they became as you shared the road with other cars and bicyclists. I do not pray very often but I found myself praying all the way up and for a while, on the way down.
It was 7:00 am as I reached Kula Lodge, one of the waitresses just putting out the “open” flag. There was already a line of people waiting to be seated. I sat in the back right corner at a table that faced the big picture windows overlooking the beautiful crater and Hawaiian landscape. The waitress was extremely nice, sickly sweet like the young woman who checked me into my hotel the night before. I was starting to see this might be a trend, but it was a welcomed one. Friendly, talkative people that I could connect with even if it was just a few minutes of small talk. The food was good, and I instantly fell in love with coconut syrup (where could I get more of this while I was here?).
There was a small but packed full, eclectic gift shop around the corner, stocked with everything from art to homemade soap to Hawaiian jellies, seasoning, and you guessed it ~ coconut syrup. I considered packing a little box for them to ship back to New Hampshire but decided against it, and instead bought a few things that I could easily pack for my trip back home. Continuing down the road, heading for Paia, I came across Twin Falls which was suggested to me by a friend who had been to Maui three times. There was no place to park in the first two lots, so I parked on the edge of the road, walking back towards the food stand and entrance to the trail. I had heard about the fresh banana bread and coconuts you could buy from the food truck at the start of the trail at Twin Falls. There was a lot of people roaming around, parents chasing after their kids and couples sauntering down the dirt path. I decided to come back to the food truck for something after I checked out the falls.
There was no place to park in the first two lots, so I parked on the edge of the road, walking back towards the food stand and entrance to the trail. I had heard about the fresh banana bread and coconuts you could buy from the food truck at the start of the trail at Twin Falls. There was a lot of people roaming around, parents chasing after their kids and couples sauntering down the dirt path. I decided to come back to the food truck for something after I checked out the falls.
I think I was the only person at Twin Falls alone, but I didn’t mind. The bamboo was beautiful, an alien vegetation I had never seen. Tall, shoved together tightly, moving in the wind and creating a creepy, creaky sound that could easily be found in a scary movie – yet it was oddly calming to me. Reaching the falls, I looked over the edge of the rocks, hearing the laughing and talking of kids and teenage boys rooting each other on to jump into the waterfall. I sat on the bench for a while watching everyone jump off into the pool of water, but was not overcome to do this myself!
I found a less traveled path – so less traveled I stumbled by a man taking a piss in the bushes. Oops. I kept going, at times crouching to miss some of the branches that hung low. I ventured down a rock pathway, taking my time to not slip. I came across a beautiful river that flowed gently, the sound of the water against the rocks out of a meditation soundbite. Hearing another waterfall in the distance, I walked upstream and found two beautiful waterfalls, families swimming in the water below them. As I walked back to the food truck after enjoying nature in this new place, I felt such a deep sense of gratitude.
Of course, I ordered a smoothie and half a coconut to eat the flesh out of. I hopped in the Jeep, continuing on to Paia sipping on a delicious smoothie and eating the flesh of the fresh coconut. To say I was in heaven might be an understatement!
Paia was too crowded and I decided to not stop. There was no place to park and after being up for hours, I wanted to see more of the island and check into my Airbnb. The drive across Maui was interesting as I was not close to the ocean and had not had that “wow” factor yet. Most of what I saw was overgrown hills, narrow roads, and in some places, dilapidated houses. This was Maui?
Coming to the southwestern coast of Maui, things started to look more like what you would expect Hawaii to look like. Bright blue ocean for miles, islands stretched out in the distance, white lines pushed up against the rocks as the surf came in.
There was much more traffic, huge resorts in the distance, palm trees curved over by the wind and beautiful views. As I came into Lahaina, through Ka’anapali and into Napili, I contacted Debra who was the owner of the condo I was renting. Everything was tightly packed together in Napili, which was not what I expected. In my mind, I had visions of vast beaches and wide open, lush lawns in front of mansions. It wasn’t what I expected, but over the next few days, it started to feel like home.
Debra helped me find the reserved parking space and led me down a walkway to the condo. It was serenely quiet despite so many houses close together, and when she opened the door there was a cross breeze from one end of the studio to the other end. Granite counter tops, newly renovated. Modern finishings, but homey at the same time. We made small talk, spoke about my stay, and she left me to get settled.
My first full day in Maui had been another adventure added on to the previous day of travel. The Haleakala Crater at sunrise was a must-see experience, Kula Lodge was delicious, Twin Falls was a beautiful walk topped off with fresh coconut and a smoothie, and the drive to Napili had views I would never forget. I rested, organized my clothes, and prepared for the next few days, ready to explore more of Maui.