There's Sand in My Bathing Suit!

Trip Start Feb 21, 2006
Trip End Mar 08, 2006

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Flag of United States  , Hawaii
Thursday, February 23, 2006

JANICE: Such a day! We've been from the glory of sunrise at the top of the world to scraping sand out of our bathing suits!

We started the morning by getting up at 3:00 am. This wasn't as hard as it sounds since we'd both crashed by 9:00 last night and are really still on Eastern Standard Time. Nevertheless, we pulled on our long pants and threw all our warm clothes into the car. We took some bananas and water, but I was holding off on coffee -- there are no bathrooms at the summit.

Before we left for Hawaii, I had decided we would pass on the Haleakala sunrise. It's a nearly two-hour drive to the top in total darkness and I was a little nervous about doing this in the middle of the night and at the beginning of our trip, before I'd found my bearings. (Everyone recommends you do this activity early in your holiday, before you adjust to the Maui time zone). You can take bus tours, but the cost (probably $150 for the two of us) just didn't seem worth it.

However, before we left Hilary announced she really wanted to see the sunrise. So, I decided we'd give it a go.

As we pulled out of our complex, the stars were sparkling over the ocean. It looked like we'd chosen a beautiful, clear night. Hilary was wide awake and a big help, using her little flashlight to illuminate the map and keep us on track. We passed through the city of Kahului and turned toward the mountain. If I remember correctly, Haleakala is considered to be one of the biggest mountains in the world -- if you measure it from the ocean floor. Mountains like Everest rise from a continent, while the island of Maui is actually part of the mountain of Haleakala. When we walk the beaches of Maui, we're actually only part way down the mountain.

Well, the road began to rise and twist and bend back upon itself. Soon, we could see only smaller and smaller bushes (rather than trees) in the gleam of our headlights as we sped by at the lightning speed of 30 mph. I wondered how our car would hold out; it's a 1999 Sentra and seems pretty gutless to me. However, it never faltered and the heat gauge never got excited.

After almost two hours, we reached the summit -- as far as the road goes. We had already turned the heat on in the car because, of course, at this altitude the temperature drops. And did it ever drop! And the wind is ferocious! Once we were parked, I stepped outside so that I could put on socks and closed shoes, my sweater and coat. I nearly froze to death and blew over - in that order.

Although we still had a good hour to go before the actual event, we decided to investigate the summit. We stumbled up the stairs in the hillside and found at the very top and windowed shelter that provided a very welcome relief from the wind. Although it was still completely dark (and there are no electric lights at the summit - or bathrooms, for that matter), we could see our immediate surroundings because of the spectacular stars. We've never seen so many! It was beyond belief. I wonder if Abraham laughed when the Lord asked him to count the stars. I would have.

Apart from the starlight and a few small flashlights, there wasn't much else to see at this point, so we headed back to the car to have a banana and wait for the show to start.

More and more people were arriving, including many individual cars like ours, groups of Japanese tourists and - astounding to us cold weather experts - people who were dressed as if they wanted to experience frostbite rather than see a sunrise. We saw one man in a light sweatshirt, shorts and a tea towel draped over his head. Many others had brought the blankets from their hotel rooms. A surprising number were wearing shorts! What were they thinking?! Hilary and I, on the other hand, had long pants, socks and closed shoes, sweaters, coats (Hil wore TWO jackets) with hoods, hats and hand-warmers to boot. We were eventually fairly cold, but managing quite nicely, thank you very much!

The crowd swelled as the sunrise approached. I kept wanting to sing, "From the rising of the sun ..." We eventually stood outside by a low stone wall and prepared to take photos as the light increased. Because we had such a clear night, with no clouds above us, we didn't have a spectacularly coloured sunrise. That happens when there are clouds above to take on the bright colours. Instead, all the clouds were below us and the sun rose from behind them into a clear sky. However, it was magnificent. For a while, all we could see was a lightening of the horizon (Oh, that's where east is! - We weren't sure.). Then, the dimensions of the clouds started to take shape and we could see each other's faces. The yellow and orange horizon became brighter and brighter and, then, there was a brilliant, golden edge to the clouds. And, then moments later - pop! - there's the sun! And - poof! - almost everyone disappeared into their cars and were gone! As Hilary asked several times, "But when does it stop?" I guess when the sun has well and fully risen, most people feel it has "stopped."

Hil and I walked around a bit, hoping to see the Haleakala Crater, now that we could see beyond our hoods. Unfortunately, the crater was filled with clouds and we really couldn't see much at all. We think we'll go back during the day time and, perhaps, even hike a little bit along the Sliding Sands Trail into the crater. However, I don't think we'll go far; I did find the air quite thin at that altitude.

Finally, we headed back to the car and, still bundled up in our winter gear, began the slow descent. It can be a bit tricky. For one thing, now that it's daylight, you can see the hairpin turns and the major drop offs beyond the three-inch curb (very few fences at the upper levels). A second challenge is that, by this time, everyone in the car is desperate for a bathroom break. The third challenge (after the bathroom break at the Visitor Centre a few minutes' drive down the mountain) is to avoid either hitting the millions of bikers coasting down the mountain or to avoid getting stuck behind one of their convoys.

As we headed downhill, we stopped at several lookouts and at one short trail. The trail looks as if it's just a scenic lookout, but is actually a 15-minute walk below the road that leads around the edge of the mountain to a spectacular view of the crater. I had read that this trail was worth taking, but didn't tell Hilary what we'd be able to see when we got to the end of it. We were both thrilled with the view. The end of the trail provides a sort of side view of the crater. We could see cinder cones and rugged rock, as well as (in the other direction) ocean and rain forest. It's a great stop and I highly recommend it, although the footing is very uneven. I've forgotten the name of the trail, but it starts with L - Leilele or something like that.

For the next long while - more than an hour - we slowly descended in 2nd gear. I hardly needed to use the brakes. I found the road - both up and down - a very easy drive. It's a two lane road, without many turnouts (I expected more), but it really isn't that steep and the hairpin turns are very broad. The pavement is excellent, lined on either side with very reflective paint and the line down the middle has those reflective little things they embed in the pavement in the south. It's a long trip, but very, very doable. As well, we didn't get lost at all; everything was adequately signed.

I'm so glad Hilary really wanted to do this trip. It was a great event. Hilary is very glad we went, although the sunrise wasn't as spectacular as she'd hoped ("Is that it?). However, the crater was much more than she'd imagined. "Will it be as big as my school?" she'd asked. It was hard for me to explain the immensity of the crater when I hadn't even seen it myself. We were both very impressed with it when we finally saw it from the trail lookout.

When we'd finally reached Kahului ("Ah, civilization," said Hil.), we stopped at McDonald's for breakfast. Can you say, "Expensive?" We had hotcakes, three hash browns, an Egg McMuffin, an orange juice and a large coffee (remember, I was sorely caffeine deprived) and bill totaled about $16. US.

By this time, it's late morning and we decide to head to the beach to try out the snorkelling equipment we picked up yesterday. This really was too late to do at our beach; the winds had picked up, as they do each day by noon, and the waves were too big. I failed abysmally. Hilary was much better, but after about 15 minutes we decided to abandon the snorkelling for the day, and just played in the waves. We had great fun! The water wasn't as cold as I'd feared but, before long, we were both thinking about heading for the hot tub and pool.

Our plan for the rest of the day included only an evening at the Old Lahaina Luau, a 40-minute drive toward the west end of the island. The luau takes place at a beautiful, outdoor grassy area, surrounded by swaying palm trees and overlooking the Lahaina harbour. We were so close to the water that we could hear the waves crashing on the show during the show and, as we waited for things to get underway we were able to watch the sunset. (Sunrise, sunset - you'd think I had planned this!) We had reserved - at Hil's request - traditional seating on cushions at low tables. This is not the most comfortable situation, but gave us front row seats (although, be forewarned, these are the last tables to eat). We were greeted with fresh flower leis - they smell wonderful but are a little strange feeling around the neck. Hilary had hers on and off so many times, I was surprised there were any petals left on the string.

The dinner buffet was wonderful. It wasn't an extensive selection, but included everything from pork (we watched them remove the whole pig from the underground oven - it had cooked with hot stones, covered with dirt), to chicken, steak and fish. It was all delicious. The staff are all dressed in sarongs and were very entertaining and helpful. The show is considered to be an authentic depiction of the Hawaiian dance through the ages. There were many beautiful slow hulas and there were also the mind-numbing, gyrating hulas that make you think the dancer is going to break some bones. How do they do that?! It just looks painful!

Hilary really enjoyed the entire show. But, after the long day we'd had, I wasn't surprised when she fell asleep in the car on the way home. When we finally got to the condo (by about 9:30 pm), she walked in, changed into her pj's and was asleep in her bed - all before I'd even locked the door!

It was a long, long day ... but a great one!
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