We both loved our quick, pre-Christmas trip to Las Vegas last year so much that we decided to plan another vacation going somewhere warm, relaxing, foodie, and fun the week before Christmas this year. End-of-semester things were especially insane this year for me, and Robert was dealing with a lot of stressful meetings and decisions at work, so the trip we planned in May was extra welcome now when it finally rolled around. I used a bunch of our Delta frequent flier miles for the flights, so we could fly first class so Robert doesn't arrive in Hawaii with any weird back or leg or neck, etc., pain. Rumor has it that the miles will be de-valued again next year, and since Delta may not even exist then, it seemed like a good time to use them.
The plan was to leave Boston Saturday morning on the 16th, fly to Salt Lake, then fly to Honolulu. There we'd change for an Aloha Air plane to Maui (Kahului) and we'd spend Saturday-Wednesday nights in different parts of Maui. On Thursday midday we'd fly back to Honolulu and spend Thursday and Friday nights there, before flying back to Boston Saturday night (with a stop in Atlanta, we'd land in Boston midday on Sunday, Christmas Eve), just in time to celebrate Christmas with Robert's father, grandmother, sister, and niece (Yasmine). I'd researched a lot before we left, and so, armed with guidebooks and print-outs and reservations and lots of plans, we set out for the airport, Robert's new Christmas-present snorkel fins dangling from a giant rubber-band strap as our final carry-on. Face it--he's got big feet. Big feet equal big fins. But it's cheaper and a lot more flexible than trying to rent a set of fins wherever we are when he decides he wants to dip in the water and start making eyes at the fish, so we lived with the mildly awkward carry-on and didn't worry about it. You can bet, though, that I made absolutely sure that snorkels and fins were explicitly on the "acceptable" list of carry-on items.
It took us almost exactly eighteen hours to get from our apartment in Boston to our room in the Diamond Resort in Wailea, Maui. We were able to check our bags straight through to Maui, despite the fact that we were flying on two different airlines and we booked the tickets at two separate times, so that was really helpful at relieving any stress over making our connections. Our flights were very close to perfectly on time, and we had plenty of leg room, enough snacks and drinks, and no obnoxious children during the flights. We watched “Quinceanera,” which was good, “Little Miss Sunshine,” which was a hysterical satire, and “Miami Vice,” which Robert wasn’t thrilled with and I slept through. Highlights, food- and beverage-wise, included the blackberries I packed for us to eat before our first flight even left Boston (blackberries had been three boxes for $5, and I’d gone a little crazy with them earlier this week—these were the last of them, though) and the “Fruit on the Fly” mocktail we ordered. “You know that’s a kid’s drink, right?” the flight attendant said. She persisted in trying to discourage us from ordering it (“too sweet”), but we found the raspberry, guava, pomegranate, and Sprite drink very refreshing, especially with a squeeze of lime.
There was snow on the ground in Salt Lake, which made connecting through there to Hawaii very satisfying—it’s nice to feel you’ve covered a great span of temperatures and weathers in just one day. Once in Honolulu, we admired the Hawaiian Christmas decorations (fake trees with real tropical flowers wired to the branches, for instance) and the Hawaiian Christmas carols (a “Twelve Days of Christmas” with nene, poke, and squid, among others). We also had an 8-ounce container of roast pork with lots of ginger from a little Hawaiian fast-food stand, and after demolishing the pork, we had just enough time to board our connecting Aloha Air flight to Kahului, Maui. (As a sidenote, Kahului’s airport code, mystifyingly enough, is OGG. We plan to investigate further.)
Our three checked bags arrived perfectly, and we caught the van to the Thrifty rental car counter very quickly. Thrifty, as always, had excellent, friendly service, and we stood in the Blue Chip line and got a discount on an upgrade, soon driving away in a lovely medium blue PT Cruiser Convertible. It was just a half hour drive from the airport to our hotel, even with a quick stop at the Krispy Kreme drive-through for a hot donut for Robert (“I miss these donuts,” he reflected). We admired the Apple Store, the Bad Ass Coffee shop (which we’d first encountered in Alaska, where people told us proudly it was a Hawaiian chain), and a few other exciting places, but we didn’t make any additional stops since it was dark and we were by this point starting to get more than a little tired.
The service from the moment we pulled into the Diamond Resort was wonderful—what we saw of the hotel in the dark was gorgeous, and our suite huge and luxurious. The room was $220 a night, but Robert observed that it’s nicer than some $400 a night places he’s stayed at for conferences and things. The history of the hotel is an interesting one—it used to be a private retreat for Japanese citizens, and now it’s an all-suite hotel that doesn’t seem to have a huge web presence or advertising budget; instead, it seems to rely on word-of-mouth about its top-notch service and its calm, quiet, beautiful rooms and grounds. It really was silent and lovely when we went out for a walk, around 7:30, over to the hot tub and spas (separate baths for men and women). Clearly the hotel still caters to a Japanese clientele, as the Japanese tea service and green tea bags in our rooms, the fancy Japanese toilet with adjustable water-pressure jets and an adjustable-temperature heated seat, and the Japanese yellow pages would suggest; it’s really a wonderful find, and I would absolutely stay here again. After our dip in the hot, delightful pools, we came back, made tea in our room, organized all of our notes and papers and stuff, and fell asleep around 9:30 local time—a lot later than we thought we’d be able to stay up.
We slept straight through until our alarm went off at 6:00, on a bed wider than the narrow parking spot we maneuvered into last night (after unloading our car at the check-in area while we checked in, the bellhop then got in a golf cart with all of our bags and followed us as we parked, then drove us to our room), and wider than the distance from wall to wall in our bedroom. The sun wasn’t up yet, so we got to watch the light slowly come up over the ocean from our balcony (helpfully stocked with flip-flops for two so you don’t have to walk barefoot on the balcony). I got a partial ocean view room, since I thought it would be nice to wake up and see the ocean on our first day. By 6:45 the sun was up, and all sorts of funny tropical birds were cooing and chirping. The rest of the grounds were still beautifully manicured, but silent. I typed some of this while sitting outside, sipping more tea.
At 7:00 we went to Restaurant Taiko, right in the main building of the hotel, for breakfast. Robert had the Japanese broiled fish breakfast, with two of the most succulent small, whole broiled mackerels (“They’re so moist and juicy—do you think they stuff them with something?” Robert asked), which we just ate whole. His meal came with rice, pickles, miso soup, tea, a sidedish of simmered tuna, and condiments for the mackerel. I had the Japanese porridge breakfast, with a bowl of rice and vegetable porridge over a burner, to which I got to add a raw egg and watch it cook, and then, after seasoning and eating the porridge, I got to scrape the crispy rice off the bottom of it—everything was wonderful, and my first-ever Japanese breakfast more than exceeded expectations.
After breakfast we headed up to Wailuku, where we sought out the Home Maid Bakery and bought two hot malasadas (mildly disappointing—hot and fresh, but blah and not overly sweet, though light) and an armload of mochi (bibingka butter mochi, perfect as always; peanut-butter filled mochi—stupendous, salty and sweet; mochi- and azuki-filled buns, a lovely combination of baked light bread with red bean and mochi inside; basic chi chi dango mochi in pink and green, light and sweet and coconutty) and manju (peach, not what we expected, but a very nice flaky turn-over type pastry with a jammy-cooked fruit filling). We then drove straight to the Ka’ahumanu Church (established 1832), where we joined a congregation of 19 others (three ministers, a pianist, a ukelele player, two ushers, five other tourists visiting for the day, and five “regular” members) for a casual, offbeat service in this Congregational church. The sermon revolved around how God sent Jesus at exactly the right, or ripe (o’o) time, just as it’s right to pick mangoes only at the perfect, ripe moment. The hymns (including two Christmas carols since it is only a week before Christmas), Lord’s prayer, Doxology, and Gloria Patri were all in Hawaiian, and the hymnal only had the Hawaiian words, so we did our best to sing along. There were spontaneous ukelele songs and testimonies and all of the visitors were asked to stand up and introduce themselves, and then we got hugged and we had leis put around our necks. At the end of the service, the ministers offered everyone homemade cupcakes and water and soft drinks out of a cooler chest. It was lovely, heartfelt, and very, very Hawaiian, and was a great way to start the week.
After church, we sampled all of the mochi in the car and drove over to Lahaina, stopping once to buy sugar cane juice ($5) from a roadside truck; the juice has a very unique, caramelized, almost banana-y flavor, but was too sweet to drink on its own without cutting it with cold water. We also stopped by a scenic lookout and talking to a whale-obsessed volunteer about whales, since this is the season that humpback whales migrate from Alaska down to Hawaii to give birth and raise their calves. Has he seen any whales so far today? “Whale season started three days ago, but the whales don’t know that,” he said in answer. At right, a view to the southwest from the whale-watching point. No whales, but nice view.
Lahaina was indeed cruelly sunny and hot, as its name indeed means. We found a parking spot pretty easily on the street and did the walking tour of historic downtown Lahaina, including the ruins of an old fort made out of coral, an old lighthouse, a birthing stone in the water (a lot less torturous than the birthing stones on the plains of Oahu, I thought—I soaked up additional feminist energy from this place too, to fortify me; the stone chair is pictured below), the giant banyan tree (truly giant—we thought we’d seen big banyans before, but this one takes up an entire city block, and is strewn with Christmas lights, and shelters an entire crafts fair in its shade), a prison made out of the same coral blocks from the fort (they dismantled the one to build the other, as times changed), and the Henry Baldwin missionary house (where we had a great tour from a guide who talked about how she’s found her perfect job, since what she loves to do most in life is talk-story, and this job pays her to do it).
We then got a shave ice (lilikoi and li hing mui with sweetened condensed milk, $4) from a small stand off of Front Street and we drove to the Safeway on the northern end of town for lunch—1/4 pound each of three different pokes (excellent seasoned mixed raw fish—we chose tako, ahi, and salmon) from their stock (they had eight or nine to choose from, all fresh and good-looking, all for $9-11/pound), totaling about $7. We took the poke up to Kahekili Beach Park, where we found a spot in the public day parking lot and picnicked on a blanket spread on the grass at the edge of the beach. After some more mochi for dessert, we changed into bathing suits and walked down the beach, half in and half out of the surf, as far as the Sheraton Black Rock beach (Kaanapali Beach). Robert went snorkeling, but neither he nor any of the other folks he talked to saw any fish or turtles today, although this is normally a good spot for them; possibly the surf was too strong, or maybe the fish were observing the beginning of whale season by staying home. The waves were too terrifying for me to do more than go in knee-deep and then flee at the sight of every breaker, but the water was a lovely temperature and the sand was perfectly fine and medium brown. We wound our way back up the beach to where we’d left the car, Robert swimming just past the breakers and me walking along, managing to carry on a conversation as we went.
Below, four pictures from our hot walk around Lahaina: us in front of part of the Banyan tree, more of the Banyan tree so as to see part of the scale of it, a neat mailbox, and a very pretty old temple.
After our dip we were sandy but happy, so we turned around and drove back past Lahaina to Olowalu Beach, which was hard to find—we turned in at the sign and then followed a gravel road a block or two over to a deserted, overgrown parking lot at the edge of a rocky beach. We never did find the excellent snorkeling spot or the turtle-cleaning station one guide book had mentioned, but we walked out on a long human-made breakwater to the edge, where we had great views of Molokai and Lanai and other parts of Maui, and where we sat on a bench and watched crabs scuttle around on the rocks below us. Below, three pictures from that beach; the picture of us together at the very top of this page is also from this beach (courtesy of a bench and a small tripod and a timer).
Back in the car in the deserted lot, we both changed back into street clothes, and then we drove straight to Kihei, where we managed to find DK Kodama’s Sansei Sushi in the Foodland strip mall. At 4:40 we joined a fairly long line of people waiting for the 5:00 opening and the Sunday-Monday 5:00-6:00 50% off discount. We got the last two seats at the sushi bar right at 5:05, and we ordered extravagantly (fish at every meal, baby, fish at every meal): scallop nigiri, panko ahi maki, crab-lobster ravioli, rock shrimp cake breaded in noodles, ahi-hamachi blossom sushi with quail egg, mango-crab salad mamenori roll, pink cadillac mamenori roll, ahi poke, ahi tatake, and a foie gras nigiri (that last the only thing that wasn’t discounted). Everything was fantastic, and the sushi chef was great, giving us his opinion on everything from how fast we were ordering (too fast, he repeatedly cautioned us) to the best ice cream and shave ice stands. The foie gras nigiri was especially good, though certainly starting with foie gras, I’m not sure how it could be bad. I’d made the mango-crab salad roll, as a couple of the other sauces, from his cookbook, though I’d never eaten at his restaurant before, so it was very neat to see how the recipes and my recreations of them compared to the real thing. After dinner we were stuffed, but happy, and we’d made friends, Hawaiian-style, with people sitting on both sides of us—a teenage or college-aged girl on our right, who gave us a piece of her rock shrimp dynamite when we’d eyed it enviously, and a crazy middle-aged man on our left who was from Washington, DC and had strong feelings on everything from Harley riders to swimming pools to sushi to cooking to Harvard Square businesses.
After dinner, we went into the Foodland, since we were right there, getting Maui potato chips, li hing mui mangoes, li hing mui gummy worms, and Bubbie’s raspberry-chocolate chip ice cream mochi as snacks for our trip, plus lilikoi butter, creamy Maui honey, and li hing mui powder to take home. We got back to our hotel just at 7:00 and each went to our separate spas. Tonight I was braver and shed not only my shoes at the little shoe-cubby but also my clothes at the little clothes-cubbies, going into the baths naked like every other woman there (last night I’d chickened out and still worn my bathing suit). The baths really are lovely to soak in, and then I took a shower right there, Japanese-style with bucket and stool, before getting dressed and meeting Robert back at our room. After more ice cream mochi and some hot tea, we turned in around 8:30, having had a great day and loving our comfortable room and bed.
More. . .