The Aloha Season
Well we just got back from our family Thanksgiving celebration in Maui. What a great way to kick off the holiday season by being with family in the land of Aloha. After the tribulations of most of the year it was wonderful to float on the waves of the warm Pacific and to eat good food and laugh with family ('"ohana") and to be with the kids. For me, it was a much needed time of rejuenevation and reconnection. For Michael, it was his first visit to Hawaii, and now that he's been reconnected to Polynesia I'm sure we'll be returning to the islands early and often.
The holidays can be so stressful, so many personalities, so many expectations. But we always say that the true Christmas holiday spirit is peace on earth, good will to all men. All that is encompassed in the word "Aloha" which means love, hello, goodbye, hospitality and also shared breath as in the recognition that another shares the same breath as you (very like "namaste"). So we are now in the season of Aloha.
I have a big family: two sisters, one brother, one dad (in the black floral shirt above), and five nieces and nephews. Since the kids are all minors still, I will refer to them by a code based on Hawaiian names for fishes: Ahi, Mahimahi, Uhu, Humuhumu, and Nukunuku. My uncle Paul (in the red shirt next to my dad) who is my mother's brother came with us too which was a great treat.
We stayed in Kaanapali at the wonderful Westin Resort and Spa. Kaanapali is not really a town - it is more of an area. Located north of Lahaina, it runs along Kaanapali Beach, and features dozens of resorts and hotels, with more ocean activities than you can imagine. Here you can find the grandest (and priciest) hotels but also moderately priced hotels that make up in beach access what they lack in amenities.
Maui, known as the Garden Isle, has several different climate zones. The State of Hawaii has 12 of the world's 15 distinct climate zones; so Maui is following the charateristics of the state. On top of the West Maui mountains that backdrop Kaanapali is one of the wettest spots on earth, getting about 300 inches of rain. Kaanapali, being on the leeward or dry side of the mountains, gets only about 18 inches of rain a year. It was a nice 85 degrees each day we were there. Hence, it was perfect weather.
We had spectacular interaction with sea life this trip. On our first morning, we went snorkeling at Black Rock just north of the hotel. We saw and swam with two green sea turtles ("honu" in Hawaiian). The turtles are indigenous to that area of Maui, and have been recorded in ancient petroglyphs by early Hawaiians. They are the symbol of longevity and endurance. It was really special to see them along with the beautiful tropical fish that were so abundant.
On Monday we sailed to the island of Lanai (pronounced "La-nye-ee" to differentiate it from "La-nye" or porch). Lanai is only 7 miles from Maui. On the way over and on the way back, my niece Nukunuku and I called to the dolphins to come join us, and sure enough we were treated to Hawaiian spinner dolphins swimming with our catamaran, right at our pontoons, and putting on great shows of leaps and twirls and jumps and spins. My nephew Humuhumu helped me spot the flying fish that also flew along with us in the beautiful blue blue waters. These fish "fly" when they are trying to outrun predators, and look like giant jeweled dragonflies.
On the magical isle of Lanai (where Bill and Melinda Gates got married at the Manele Bay Resort), a very large parrot fish tried to eat one of my nephews as he was leaving the water after snorkeling at Hulopoe Bay. That's why I call him "Uhu" which is the local term for parrot fish. The guide said he has never seen such a thing in all his years in the islands. Ah well, a first time for everything as they say. Both fish and boy are fine, mahalo for asking.
On Tuesday we parasailed. I told my dad I wanted to see what it would be like being "caught up in the air" (a biblical term for you heathens who like me probably won't be raptured). Actually, it was to conquer a fear of heights that I have. Michael and I got to ride together and it was a magical ride. It was so stress-free; so utterly peaceful. What a beautiful beautiful experience. I thought I would be scared to look down, but I found myself looking for whales in the azure sea 800 feet below my toes. If you have a chance, go para sailing. You will love it. This was our birthday gift to our niece Mahimahi. Happy Birthday girl, we love you!!
The Old Lahaina Luau is probably the best luau on Maui, if not the state. Ahi, my oldest nephew, was quite impressed by the dancers. I told him that in hula (the dance of Hawaii) you have to watch the hands to get the show, but in the tamare (the dance of Tahiti), if you watch the hands you miss the show. That's because in the tamare, this hips are the show - it's the dance with the driving drums and fast-shaking hips. Ahi loved the tamare, oh yes he did. The Old Lahaina Luau tells the story of how the Tahitians came after the Marquessans and settled Hawaii. So in a real way, the tamare is the oldest Hawaiian dance, and certainly dominant in Polynesian culture.
(Just so you know, Polynesia is defined as everything inside that great triangular area that has New Zealand, Hawaii, and Easter Island as the triangle's corners. New Zealand of course is known as Aotearoa and the home of Maoris.)
This being Mike's first visit to Maui, we spent Wednesday going all around the island -- but not on the crazy road to Hana. We went to Paia the windsurfing capital of the world and home of the Blue Monster biggest surfable wave in the winter, then upcountry to Makawao and Kula (it really is cooler in Kula!) then down to Makena and Wailea. We even went down to La Perouse Bay which is crystal clear because itis a lava basin with no sand. Haleakala, the volcano which created most of Maui, was wreathed in clouds that day, and the sun never did come out for us in Little Beach. (And to your inevitable question about us at Little Beach the answer for me is of course yes, for Michael it is no.)
So what is Thanksgiving in the tropics like? It's wonderful. Of course we had a turkey and all the trimmings on Thursday, but since it was a Westin buffet, we also had a dessert table that required THREE trips --one for traditional desserts (pumpkin pie, apple pie), one for chocolate desserts, and one for tropical desserts (mango chiffon cheesecake).
They say that the day after Thanksgiving is the biggest shopping day of the year and it was no exception for us. My sisters Mamie and Mona are champion, world class, intrepid shoppers. I believe it is genetic since that is one gene we all have in common. So the girls used their coupons at Hilo Hatties, raided Longs and ABC for bargains (LOVE those stores!) then wrapped it up by buying a two bedroom ocean front villa at the new Westin Vacation Villas North just up the street from our hotel. When the Chang sisters shop -- look out-- you don't stand a chance. But it is good for America's economy.
The wonderful thing about their last purchase is that of course we will have another family Thanksgiving in Kaanapali in 2008 when the villas are done. To ensure our return to Maui, in the Hawaiian custom we threw leis and orchid blossoms into the sea along with wishing blessings for our loved ones, present and departed.
And putting aside all the activities, all the purchases, all the food, all the leis, the beauty of this vacation was being together. Ohana (family) is the root of Aloha. And to my ohana, I say mahalo for a wonderful Thanksgiving.