I am happy to report, Maui is still here in all of its beauty. As the plane descended I could see it spread out below, resplendently green, looking like a tropical version of Ireland.
In some ways it seemed like a longer flight than the one to Australia last year, even though it was a good eight hours shorter altogether. I think that is partly because the flight to Australia was on Qantas, and the seats were appreciably larger with a lot more leg room!
DH and have been coming here since 1982 - before we were even married. In the early 80's, as some of you may remember, it was the heady time at the dawn of the "frequent flier" era. Free tickets abounded, with airlines fighting over who had the best awards. At the time, DH was going on numerous business trips to California and piling up miles galore on United Airlines, and I did some traveling of my own. And back then, for 75,000 miles, you got two free FIRST CLASS tickets plus four nights free at a Westin hotel.
The airlines even had deals where you could get these free tickets by traveling a certain number of flight segments in a given amount of time, which encouraged the dedicated frequent flier to opt for flights with several "legs" rather than non-stop direct flights. Once, in order to earn my next free ticket to Hawaii, I was short two segments and time was running out. So we booked the shortest flight we could find, which was from Hartford, Connecticut to Providence, Rhode Island. We drove the 2-1/2 hours to Hartford, and DH waited there while I got on the plane, flew to Providence, stayed on the plane, turned around and flew back to Hartford. I got off the plane, $90 poorer, but richer by two segments that earned me a free ticket to Hawaii. A worthwhile deal.
This bounty translated into several memorable trips to Hawaii for us.
Our first trip was in November of 1982; we visited four of the Hawaiian islands in 12 days, to see the differences between them, as neither of us had ever been here before. We spent two nights on Oahu (had to see Pearl Harbor and the Arizona Memorial), two nights on the Big Island of Hawaii (stayed right by the active volcano in an old hotel called the Volcano House, where Mark Twain once stayed), four nights on Maui (in the Westin Wailea hotel, for free) and then five nights on the Garden Isle of Kauai.
We loved all of the islands we visited, but realized we liked Maui the best, as it had the perfect combination of natural beauty and good restaurants!
Since then we've made numerous trips back to Maui, have visited the much less touristy island of Molokai (the location of the now-defunct leper colony run by Father Damien), and even taken a day trip by catamaran to the island of Lanai, which at that time was mostly pineapple farms; now it has several expensive luxury hotels.
There have been many changes, of course, since we've been coming for the past 25 years. The airlines have all cut back drastically on both their frequent flier awards and the services they offer on the planes. Now we would have to use some huge number of miles to fly first class, so we opt for coach. And where we once were served by flight attendants garbed in Hawaiian Aloha shirts for the men and flowered dresses for the women, they now wear traditional uniforms like any other flight attendants. Gone are the orchids on your tray (yes, you got them even in coach) and the macadamia nuts. Heck, we didn't even get peanuts on our flight this time! And we had to buy a sandwich. Oh well, with Hawaii, it's all about the destination, although it was nice when the journey was also a pleasure.
Maui itself has seen changes too numerous to mention, but being me, I feel compelled to mention some of them. In 1982, the town of Kihei (which is where the condo we stay is located) was a sleepy little town with no traffic lights, with a narrow two-lane road sparsely populated by locals who would drive along at about 20 miles per hour, in no hurry whatsoever, on island time. There was one mall, called Azeka Place, and a couple of small restaurant complexes of reasonably priced, unique food. One was a great place called The Outrigger, which was right on the beach. Another was La Familia Mexican Restaurant, which had a happy hour at sunset and everyone would gather and drink frozen margaritas and watch the sun set on the bay across the road.
There were a number of condo complexes tastefully situated along the beach, with stretches of natural brush and terrain in between. The ocean was visible for most of the drive along the road.
Today South Kihei road is lined on both sides with enormous strip malls populated with fast food chain restaurants, grocery stores and souvenir shops, and farther up the road, many additional condominium complexes on both sides.
There is a whole other highway that has been completed that runs parallel to the original road, also lined with condos and shops. There are several street lights on Kihei Road, the road has been widened, and the traffic could be in New Jersey as it whizzes by. Now they are widening the road from the airport to a four-lane highway.
That's the bad news. The good news is, we don't have to go there once we get our groceries and stock up for the week (or two, depending). The condo where we stay is the last one, on North Kihei Road, and beyond it is nothing but wilderness.
The rest of the island is much as it once was. Drive through green fields of sugar cane to the eastern side of the island and there is none of the modern chaos that little Kihei has become. Drive up the Haleakala Highway to the top of the dormant Haleakala volcano and enjoy the peaceful, starkly beautiful terrain. Drive around the back of the island, through the artsy little town of Paia (home to ex-hippies and surfers who enjoy the waves at the beach there), through the rain forest to Hana, then back via the other side of the volcano, where the mountain slopes steeply down to the sea, punctuated with a few cinder cones that formed 200 years ago in the last lava flow.
Drive to the "upcountry" where the weather is cooler and the views spectacular, and the old cowboy town of Makawao beckons with its little shops and boutiques and several good restaurants. Walk on the beach past the Kealia Pond Nature Preserve and watch the whales spouting in the bay. Explore the old County Seat, Wailuku, home to a local theater group and some great Thai food.
Yes, it's all still here, as long as you close one eye to the overdevelopment that threatens ominously in certain areas. If it is kept contained where it is, Maui will continue to be the island paradise it always has been. Let's hope the good people of this island know the gem that they have and don't allow it to be sullied irreparably in the name of progress.
On a more mundane note, I am happy to report that, as you may have guessed, our condo has wi fi and I am able to both blog and read blogs! So my vacation is complete! I'll post some pictures when we get around to downloading them. Yes, we've already taken several!
I am continuing to watch the news about the upcoming primaries and have read that Obama and Clinton are now in a dead heat in Texas. I'll be following this closely in the news and on the blogs!