From Maui with Love: A Unicorn Booty Travelogue
There’s a lot of ocean between Seattle and Maui – over 3,000 miles and 7 hours worth, to be more Pacific! Sorry, that’s just a bit of maritime humor for you. Such deep blue expanses of ocean are an appropriate sight as I, staring lazily out the window past the Hawaiian Air jet fin on the wing, began to feel the full force of the impending vacation.
“We’re going to Maui!” I could barely contain myself, as I turned to Kevin with a sharp elbow to his ribs. Kevin and I had been working like mad unicorns to get everything in order for our trip, and I hadn’t given myself much time for Hawaii to sink into my mental circulations.
And finally, sipping on the delectable canned nectar that is POG (Pineapple/Orange/Guava juice), I was excited. Suddenly I was a little kid again, taking a trip to an exotic land full of uncertain and mysterious experiences, thrilled to throw out the humdrum everyday routine in favor of the sublime fabric of richness that is travel.
Sugar. A wall of heavy, sweet sugar hits my nostrils and invades my brain. Sugarcane. The sweet, fragrant air is divine; it’s like a welcome from the gods. And the heat! It is actually WARM here, which is no small reward for suffering through 9 months of fog and rain in Seattle.
“I never really noticed the sweet small,” laughs Aunt Debbie, the jovial driver taking us to our first stop, the Old Wailuku Inn. “I must be used to it!” Indeed, the smell only grows stronger as we pass the acres of sugarcane waving fiercely in the wind.
Sugarcane and pineapples were, until recently, the primary export from the island of Maui. However, the closing of the final pineapple cannery has eliminated that export. Even the sugarcane isn’t processed on the island anymore; it’s burnt and liquefied to destroy parasites and then shipped to California for processing.
This uneasy relationship with the mainland is something that is a continued threat to the island, as locals must be hyper-vigilant against any type of invasive species. An unwelcome stowaway could drastically overwhelm the ecosystem, and change the island in irreversible ways.
Take the African Tulip, for example. It arrived on the island many moons ago, and has brought with it a flower that is able to spread its pollen for miles in any direction – and brings absolutely zero value to the island. While it is more beautiful than say, the dandelions on the mainland, the domination over native species is the same.
Another invasive species that is far more beneficial to the island is, without question, the millions of tourist that escape to Maui every year.
Maui has been voted the World’s Best Island by Conde Nast 17 times – more than any other island in the world. There is an abundance here that is unmatched by most island ecosystems; virtually everything you could possible need for a healthful life is available within its borders.
“Maui is the land of plenty,” jokes our gregarious driver Henry the next day, as we leave the Old Wailulku Inn headed for Hana, on the other side of the island. “Plenty of McDonald’s, Burger Kings, Home Depot…” We all laugh, but there is an obvious seam of truth that runs through pretty much everything this multi-generation Hawaiian says.
Hawaii is without a doubt an American state: there are big box stores, fast-food chains, oil and tire stores, and pretty much every other feature of the globalized American dream. If it weren’t for the looming verdant peaks shrouded in mysterious mist, some roads could be found anywhere on mainland America.
However, like most places that attract a whopping tourist trade, Maui is much more than that. Henry is driving us along the 403 curves that encompass the infamous Road to Hana. The road, which was only paved in 1998, is most definitely a challenge for the motion sick traveler; however, it is also the key to the eternal appeal of Maui.
“Maui is the Garden of Eden. We have the prettiest place on Earth,” says Henry, as he continues to give us one of the most comprehensive tours that I’ve ever experienced. Wild chickens with out of this world emerald and ruby feathers to the left; invasive bamboo four stories tall on the right; straight ahead is hono-hono, a plant that relives itchy mosquito bites; in the water, keianae (mullet fish) swim past.
Maui truly is one of the most abundant places on Earth; it’s as if life oozes from every pore of this technicolor island. Dozens of varieties of fruit beckon from roadside stalls; cows graze on open pastures; coffee grows on the hillsides; fresh water bubbles up from the ground; coconuts fall from above.
Admittedly, I never realized how sustainable and independent an island could actually be. It certainly makes financial sense, as everything on an island has enormous transportation costs, but I had not considered the wealth and variety of life here. Henry was good – he effortlessly impressed a deep Aloha spirit upon me, in spite of the hundreds of winding twists and turns!
After surviving the serpentine Road to Hana, we were greeted with a champagne welcome at our own little slice of paradise: the Travaasa Hana. The Travaasa is a new concept: a resort hotel that is more than just a place to vacation. Locals teach classes every day on traditional crafts that range from fishing with a net to lei making to ukulele. The staff is incredibly friendly and strives to make you feel like a part of the place you are visiting rather than apart from it.
I am a huge fan of this integration of local flavors into a gorgeous resort setting. After taking a net throwing class – and sadly not catching any fish – I quickly regretted not having done more classes during our short stay there. I could have even gone horseback riding with one of the stunning stallions that grazed each day down by the cliffs.
The accommodations themselves were like a luxury summer camp: big open space with a high ceiling, king-sized bed, couch, kitchenette, and oversized barn-style doors that open out onto a private deck overlooking the waves crashing on the massive cliffs.
This was the Maui I had always fantasized about: remote, comfortable, enthralling, engrossing, and effortlessly relaxing. Spa treatments and infinity pool sessions segued seamlessly into cliff diving adventures with a gay-friendly guide named Wade from No Ka Oi Adventures.
With Wade forging the way ahead, we explored the island, discovering countless trails leading to ever-more-majestic waterfalls. We nibbled on coconut candies by the roadside. We enjoyed the windiest picnic lunch of my life while soaking in the old lava flows from the past centuries.
In just five days, we had clearly gone native. I didn’t want to leave. Kevin didn’t want to leave. We were already plotting our return, our move, our reset on the busy, modern lives we live in favor of a different pace – in favor of this place.
We fantasized about joining the small-but-growing contingent of “gays who got away” from the mainland rat race: the energetic Chef Raja, a personal chef who cooked us an absolutely unforgettable meal in our suite; the affable Wade, who started his own tour company, No Ka Oi Adventures, and now introduces small groups to the wonders of his home; Frank and Kevin whose company, Gay Hawaii Wedding helps hundreds of couples get married each year; or Michael, the welcoming manager of the Maui Sunseeker LGBT Resort.
The mainland refugees had all kinds of motivations for giving up their lives back east. I could probably come up with at least a half-dozen reasons why I’d give everything up for an idyllic life on Maui.
But for now, the show must go on, and I will hold this time in paradise dear. I take it out when I’m feeling blue, and I remind myself that the very existence of enchanted places bodes well for all of us. Our bliss is out there, and all we need to do is get out there and find it – or be mindful enough to recognize the bliss when it has come to us.
For a taste of traditional Hawaii in the quant Wailuku, stay at The Old Wailuku Inn.
Enjoy the clothing optional pool at the only gay resort on Maui:LGBT Sunseeker Resort.
Escape to the end of the earth at the deeply luxurious all-inclusiveTravaasa Hana.
Get hitched with the experienced and inexpensive Gay Hawaii Weddings.
Experience world class adventure tourism from No Ka Oi Adventures.
Enjoy a gourmet beach picnic, courtesy of Chef Raja.