Sunday, March 22, 2009

Wife Rule #102: Enjoy the Journey

Spring Fever season is in full bloom once again, so I'm going to stop resisting: I'm writing more about Hawaii. After all, it's likely going to be quite some time before I make it over there again, so I might as well live it up again in my mind.

This time I want to chronicle one of the journeys my wife and I made together, down a long and winding road around the perimeter of Maui, to the mystical land of Hana.

I had been to Hana before as a teenager, and my memories of the trek have been tugging me back ever since. There are millions of other Americans who have had the magic of the Road to Hana splashed across their consciousness, at least once. I refer to the movie "IQ," starring Meg Ryan (and also Albert Einstein--who knew?), wherein she indulges in fantasizing about visiting the Seven Sacred Pools, a remote slice of paradise just past Hana, where sitting in one of the tropical waterfalls is likened, as only Meg Ryan can, to "a thousand tongues licking you all over your body."

So there you have it. Great, salivating, foaming tongues. Maybe attached to giant sacred cows or something. Who could resist?

Thus, it should seem only natural that my wife and I reserved an entire day of our Maui stay to spend alone with our convertible Mustang and that long and winding road, all for the sake of making it to the Seven Sacred Pools.

And the road, though it is commonly called "the Road to Hana," really is all about the pools. Hana itself is a relatively small town that doesn't offer much except road-side banana bread and shaved ice stands, and greatly overpriced hotel rooms, which is why most of us make the mammoth trek there and back in a single day.

But the pools, the sacred pools! My memories of the place, while not specifically including any giant cows (maybe they're invisible), are distinctly romantic. Imagine with me a canyon cut through a thick green jungle, exposing dark rock cliffs that are overgrown with yet more green: vines hang off lush tree branches from the top of each cliff while mosses and ferns encroach from the bottom. Running through the middle of it all is a clear, swift stream that splashes down a series of waterfalls, each with a perfectly-proportioned catch-basin that seems custom-designed for swimming and splashing in a churning cauldron of bubbling energy.

Now imagine exploring the pools from bottom to top; emerging from the water of one pool just long enough to scramble through the ferns up the embankment and jump into the next one, perhaps plunging directly into the flow of the waterfall to wash off any mud incurred in the journey. Thus you go, playing the canyon up and back again like a wild, transcendent melody.

When you grow hungry for new flavors, you find at the base of the bottom-most pool a hot-tub-sized pothole. This is the last swirling whirlpool the stream makes before spilling over the final cliff and into the turbulent ocean below, which posted warning signs indicate must literally be brimming with hungry sharks. Never mind them; you can plainly discern that a fall into the watery chaos below would be your end long before the cleanup crew of sharks arrived. This dash of complimentary contrast, potently enhanced by imagining ones self accidentally slipping over that last ledge, only serves to heighten the magic of the tranquil pools above--a needed spice to complete the recipe for the perfect natural spa.

With these thoughts tantalizing my mind, my wife and I made our way down the highway, bidding goodbye to the last strip malls and fast food joints we would see for the rest of the day. Deep storm clouds loomed constantly ahead of us, but we weren't too concerned. One had better expect to get rained on in the jungle side of the island, and we knew a little wetness wouldn't significantly alter our experience anyway.

We took our sweet time, taking opportunity to experience north-eastern Maui along the way. The first stop was an obscure path through the mud and bamboo forest, along a gurgling stream, to a series of waterfalls. It turned out that the few people along the trail dropped off sharply after the first falls, giving us a sweet hour of near-solitude swimming in the room-temperature, enormous pool at the base of the second falls, which I have already written sufficiently about in another Wife Rule.

The next stop we made was on the sea side of the road, counting the miles between mile posts to detect the right pullout (thank you again, little blue Maui book!). This "hike" was really just a quarter-mile walk out onto a razorback cliff. Had this rock fin not been entirely coated with dense growth, this would have been a fairly terrifying venture, the light drizzle turning the ground to slippery sludge under our feet. Whether looking to the right or the left, all I could see was a sharp drop-off that began not more than two feet from where I walked, where the trunks of trees and stalks of plants protruded from the earth in ever steeper angles until the ground disappeared entirely, the green foliage visible for a few more yards before all transformed into empty space. From a vantage point here, we could see a 300-foot, uninterrupted waterfall spilling over the cliff across the south canyon. To be able to see the pool at the bottom of the falls required a rather uncomfortable lean towards the abyss before us. Beautiful view check, and now let's get back to the car and solid ground again!

We wound further down the coast, following the snaking road around hairpin blind curves. Many of them were only one lane with no shoulder to speak of between us and the dramatic sea cliffs. At least warning signs would let us know on which stretches of road we were most likely to encounter death in the form of a head-on collision or plunge into the sea. In reality they offered little practical protection, as the typical speed of the traffic going the opposite way around the curves seemed to indicate that most other drivers weren't overly concerned about the prospects of death. Morons.

On the interior curves we penetrated minor canyons where the jungle grew so thick and lush that the green seemed to literally heave with oxygen and life. The outrageous foliage was usually topped off with magnificent displays of colorful flowers on the trees or the dangling vines. The jungle seemed to twist around us in a dizzying display of color and sounds and scents as the road spun us along. These moments alone, when viewed in panoramic IMAX splendor provided by the missing roof of our Mustang, made the extra charge for the convertible top more than worth it.

These vertical ravines also usually featured a one-lane bridge, a pullout, and a spectacular waterfall or two. After our fourth or fifth stop at one of these picture-perfect falls, we realized that we would never make it to Hana if we kept it up. This was actually fine, since we found ourselves beginning to experience "waterfall fatigue," a strange disorder that probably doesn't occur anywhere else on earth. These falls were better than the calibre many folks would hike several miles to see!

The next detour was a side road that our blue book described as "where plants go to heaven when they die," a fitting description. This road descended to a remote, tiny village called Nahiku which consisted of a common row of rusty mailboxes, a few scattered structures that were half-swallowed by the jungle that seemed eager to reclaim them, and a questionable, rickety wooden bridge over a small ravine. Incidentally, we didn't get the extra renter's insurance on our Mustang, but I'm not sure that should have been my major concern anyway if the bridge had failed. There were also some token stray chickens.

At the end of that road was a small park on a minor peninsula offering 270-degree views of turbulent white foam exploding over black rocks. Need I say more, or will you just admit that there never was a better place anywhere on earth for eating a picnic lunch?

Several more miles down the road was Waianapanapa State Park, also known as Maui's famous Black Sand Beach for those without the patience to learn to pronounce it. Here we enjoyed the splendor of the famous black sand; the impressive displays of the ocean's raw power as waves pounded against lava flows and rocketed into the sky; views through sea arches and submerged lava tube tunnels; and the famous flooded sinkholes that experience mysterious red shrimp blooms that once gave rise to a legend of a murdered Hawaiian princess and cries for vengeance.

By the time we left the Black Sand Beach, it was nearly 3:00, and we knew that we needed to hurry or we might miss the giant licking bovine tongues at the Seven Sacred Pools altogether. So we blew through Hana itself and arrived 45 minutes later at the east entrance to Haleakala National Park, home of the famous pools.

Our first clue that something was amiss was the nearly deserted parking lot. Next was the empty toll booth. And the final blow were the signs, hanging from chains across the trail right where it descended to the banks of the lowest pools, marked "DANGER: High water flow today. $5000 fine for trespassing. Be smart. Stay alive."

Indeed, from the quantity of foam spilling over the falls, it looked as if the great licking tongues were attached to giant rabid cows that day.

Bummer. The rain did us in after all.

So with our Grand Design for the day in ruins, my wife and I paused a moment to sort out all the facts:

1) We took an entire day out of our Hawaiian vacation just to make this trek and the Seven Sacred Pools are closed? How can Nature be closed?

2) Based on reading other available literature, it appears that the pools never were "sacred," there aren't even seven of them, and the real name of the spot is "Ohe'o Gulch." Yes, a gulch. Some enterprising local decided to publicize the new and improved name because he thought that the Seven Sacred Pools would draw more tourists. Brilliant jerk.

3) We had enjoyed one of the best days of our lives today.

Yes, there was no denying that last fact; today had been absolutely enchanting. We had already experienced all the waterfalls and waves we really needed, long before we ever reached the end of the road. Thus we learned a little lesson that I believe has helped us since: sometimes the journey we make together is even better than whatever destination we had in mind. So take the scenic detours. Use your eyes and ears and legs not just when you plan to, but at other opportunities when they pop up. Life is often not so much about obtaining a specific end as it is about enjoying the ride along the way. After all, we know that our lives are all going to end in death anyway. It's better to enjoy the journey all along; then it doesn't matter as much where or when we meet that ultimate end.

Armed with this new serenity, as well as an understanding that there were surely more sights to see on the journey home in the fading daylight, my wife and I found ourselves driving a just little faster around those hairpin curves on the way back. Touche morons, touche.


Anonymous said...

Oh, you are just killing me. . . killing me! Outside the window there are 2 inches of snow.

The thrill of that day was so wonderful and enticing, I may just have to save some more pennies, all my pennies.

Alan Macfarlane said...

Well, now I'll be fighting those images of paradise in the battle for productivity the rest of the afternoon.

Chas Hathaway said...

I've heard that very few ever end up in the situation they had expected to be in a decade or two earlier. I think if we enjoy each day for what it is, and not mourn what it's not, then we'll have a great life.

Good post!

- Chas

LuckyMatt said...

I'm glad you all enjoyed it--it was fun to relive as I wrote about it.