The next morning, we woke up early to prepare for our day-trip to the town of Lahaina, which is the “touristy” section of Maui and boasts some awesome beaches. The drive to get there took about 45-minutes, but it ran along a single road for nearly the length of the trip. The road snaked along the pristine coastline, with sweeping ocean views to the left and jutting mountains to the right, along with lines of scattered white windmills in the distance. Sometimes, the road cut straight through the natural rock in a manner that reminded me of driving through the southwestern states, one of my favorite places to road trip. We stopped at a scenic viewpoint where a man was sitting at a tiny wooden table selling necklaces.
Now in Lahaina, we noticed the difference in the feel of the town pretty quickly. While Kihei is subdued and covered with local, suburban-style stores and restaurants, Lahaina is surrounded by golf courses, shops and upscale lodging. The amenities are certainly convenient, but I was calmed by the notion of our palm-tree covered hotel on a quiet street back down the road. We ate through a heaping platter of short rib hash before heading off to the beach, where we lay under the piping hot sunshine until we were sleepy.
For lunch, we stopped at Kimo’s for a super tasty plate of coconut-crusted Mahi Mahi with pineapple salsa, and a piece of Hula Pie the size of my head. Hula Pie is the restaurant specialty, but Katie almost fell off her chair when they brought out the ginormous portion. It consisted of macadamia nut ice cream, chocolate cookie crust, hot fudge, and chopped macadamia nuts. I haven’t ever had so much ice cream in one sitting. It could have fed an entire 1st grade classroom.
We ventured back to our hotel in the early afternoon to prepare for the luau we’d signed up for that evening. Katie was giddily excited about this particular activity, and we’d managed to book tickets last minute even though the most popular luau choices were sold out. I had originally tried to get a spot at the famous Old Lahaina Luau, but I was greeted with nervous chuckling from the girl on the reservation line who said that they had space available in…5 weeks.
Our choice to go to the Te Au Moana Luau in Wailea ended up working out better because we were able to utilize the free hotel shuttle to get there and back, which negated the need for a sober driver. The luau was $110 and included unlimited buffet dinner, open bar, and the big dinner show. We arrived after getting some important advice from our shuttle driver:
“The show ends around 8pm and so does the open bar. So, at about 7:45pm, make sure you each have drinks in both of your hands.”
Before I knew it, I had a flower lei around my neck like a walking stereotype. It actually smelled nice and cooled my skin from the searing sunshine that still felt like it was at a midday peak. The setting was on a private beach side behind the Marriott Hotel, where the water sparkled and the sun was bright. We were sat family-style at a table with a set of parents, a few teenagers, and two other couples. The teenage boy would not take his headphones out of his ears despite his mother’s biting stare, and the couples were quiet and reserved. Figuring out quickly that this might not be a “make friends at your table” kind of evening, we headed for the bar. I gulped down a couple Mai Tai’s, which I had them alter to include vodka instead of rum, because the first option was too sweet. There were a few tables of jewelry sellers to explore and a man demonstrating how to extract coconut milk from whole coconuts. It requires shaving chunks of coconut flesh into a cheesecloth-style apparatus and then physically squeezing the milk from inside. Useful life tidbit.
Once dinner was nearly ready, everyone gathered for the traditional revealing of the kalua pig, which is taken out of an underground oven and paraded around the grounds (out of respect, not mockery). Everything settled and we made our way through the buffet, which was enormous. I piled my plate full of pulled kalua pork, marinated steak, sweet sesame BBQ chicken, purple potatoes and tangy pickled vegetables and sides. There was almost no room for dessert, which consisted of towers of bite-sized treats on an endless stretch of tables. After some more arguing between the teenage boy and his less-patient-than-before mother, the show began (with his headphones still in his ears).
Te Au Mona, the “Ocean Tide” is meant to tell a story through traditional Hula dances and songs. The show consisted of a series of performances, where dancers moved in seamless unison as their colorful dresses spun in the breeze. There was also a “Keiki” (meaning child) performance where an adorable 9-year-old came out onto the stage and led the children from the audience in a special dance. She then proceeded to perform solo, with great technique. The dances were soothing and unique, and the movements were delicate. By now, the sun was beginning to set and created a natural color-splashed backdrop behind the stage. Later on, the fire dancers came onto the stage and the mood became fast-paced and exciting as they flipped flaming stalks of bamboo into the air and around their bodies. It was actually shocking at times and kept you at the edge of your seat (altered Mai Tai in hand). By the time it was over, we had just a few moments to snap photos of the glowing sunset before heading to catch our ride.
Back at the hotel, happy and silly, we wandered to the poolside bar for “just one more”. Still adorned in our Lei’s and obviously looking quite approachable, a solo drinker at the bar struck up a conversation. It turned out he was a pilot for Alaska Airlines who was there on an overnight layover, and we all chatted for a while about what it was like to fly planes. My “airplane-fearing” self learned something important, and that is that if you are fired from your airline for being negligent, you cannot simply apply to work for another company like with any other job. You are essentially finished in the field:
“That means that when you fly, your pilot has never made a mistake”
Comforting, but I was still happy that we would be taking the full-sized Hawaiian Airlines plane between the islands tomorrow instead of the more typical 9-person mini-jet that might have given me an aneurysm.