I had landed. Consumed by exhaustion, nervous thrill and overwhelming heat and humidity, I tried to gather my thoughts. I quickly learned rule four of traveling to tropical places: No matter how cold it is back home, leave the heavy winter coat. Sure, the trip to and from the PDX airport will be freezing and miserable in January, but it is far better than lugging it around with no room in your luggage for it.
This is where my refusal to do much research caught up with me. I had no idea where to go or how to get to the hostel. I had read enough to know the hostel closed during Hawaiian siesta, a concept foreign to me. I hoped to kill time by wandering to a store to pick up a towel, since I had never stayed in a hostel before and had completely forgotten to pack my own towel with me. I had flown into Kahului’s airport (OGG) and knew the town was somewhat known for its big box stores. I headed out into the heat with my duffel bag and giant wool coat in arms. Even trying to figure out which way to go while staring across the expansive parking lot was confusing and overwhelming to me. I flipped through my Lonely Planet Hawaii book to find a small map and headed in what I felt was the correct direction to find a store to pick up a cold drink and a towel. Luckily, I chose correctly and eventually happened across a Kmart store.
Dreaming of beaches got me through this particularly uncomfortable beginning of my journey. Thinking of what was in store was the only way to avoid dwelling on how hot, sore and out of place I felt.
After making my purchase, I sat outside the store in the shade, drinking a Gatorade and trying to come up with a plan. Should I call a cab or try to find a bus? As I sat contemplating my options, a woman asked me, “Are you waiting for the bus?”
“Does one stop here?” I asked her.
“Yeah,” she said, pointing to the sign I didn’t see. I am so not used to buses actually going into store parking lots to pick people up.
“I guess I am,” I replied, explaining my situation. She was incredibly friendly and knowledgeable, telling me she stayed in the Northshore Hostel also when she first moved to the island. She told me the bus that would stop in the parking lot we were in would connect at a shopping mall at what was sort of the transit center for the whole island. There I could connect to a bus that would take me where I needed to go, and that fare was a dollar for buses that weren’t small village ‘loop’ buses. The loop buses were free and helped take locals around for errands, and to connect to other buses.
I thanked her profusely and was able to find the stop without issue once transferring to the correct bus. Once I arrived, Hawaiian siesta was over and I was third in line to check in to the hostel. As mentioned in my previous post, I had reserved a private room, being too anxious to share a room or dorm. Sharing a bathroom and kitchen would be hard enough for me. I found the prices reasonable. It seems many things have changed since my trip: They now offer free wifi, airport transfers, shuttle to the beach, A/C, breakfast and more. Prices for the private rooms have only gone up less than $10 so that’s quite the deal I think for all those new perks thrown in. Reviews can be found on their Yelp page.
While I was in line and someone else was filling out paperwork, the man behind the counter said that he recognized me, and asked if I had been there before. “No,” I said, “I’ve never been to Hawaii at all before.” When I approached the counter and pulled out my ID to verify my reservation, he noted my address and told me he had moved to Maui only a couple years prior from Portland. Small world! Here I was on an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean only to run into someone who apparently recognized me from my home town.
Once I checked in, I was so overwhelmed and exhausted I went straight to my room and spent the rest of the evening unpacking, relaxing and reading. I ventured out only to go down the street to a little Thai place for a light dinner. My anxiety was in overdrive by now, and it was hard for me to leave my room even to venture down to the shared bathroom. I avoided the common areas like the plague because I am just not social enough to strike up conversation with strangers! I have gotten better at this since then but at the time it was downright terrifying. There was a TV in the common area and I could hear other visitors watching shows, laughing, talking, getting to know each other. I holed up in my room with a book and went to sleep early.
My room was nothing special. Tiny, a small bed, ceiling fan, closet, night stand and a window which was just a hole with a screen covering it. It was unable to be opened or closed, and at times the breeze coming in made me a bit chilly, as I get cold incredibly easily. Luckily there were extra blankets in the closet. The first night was rough for me, I felt reliant on texting people back home to help me feel more comfortable. Later I tried to get over this crutch. Falling asleep was easy enough, however I was awoken only a couple hours into the night by roosters crowing. I had to check the time because I was so tired I refused to believe the sun was rising already. It wasn’t. It was only 11:30m but the moon was full and bright, which was apparently enough to get these roosters going. Because of how the window was, just being a hole in the wall with a screen and a curtain, I was unable to close it to try to muffle the sounds and eventually was able to sleep, ignoring the crowing.
I couldn’t exactly decide all that I wanted to do while on Maui, but I knew it would involve a lot of beach-lounging, sunbathing and just random wandering. My roommate at the time also gave me a phone number for a guy who lived there and was a local, a friend of his girlfriend who had also grown up on Maui. Because of my obnoxious anxiety levels, I did not call him until several days into my 9 days on Maui.
Unfortunately much time has passed between my trip and my writing about it that I have forgotten many small details, such as where I ate most meals and in what order I went about things. I hope this does not detract from my account of things, though it certainly makes it difficult to tell my story. I do recall being absolutely floored by the heat and humidity combo the first couple days, and seemed to acclimate by the third day. This did not stop me from going to the mall to buy some shorts (conveniently the Forever 21 there had very cheap shorts in my size) which I apparently never owned before that moment as they are usually quite useless in Portland. This mall is the same mall used as the transit center, the Queen Ka’ahumanu Center. I noticed they had a Hot Topic there and went in just to see what a Hot Topic in a sunny, tropical place was like. Um, unfortunately it was pretty much the same as any other, and I did buy a very low priced clearance rack long velveteen skirt to wear once I returned home.
For the most part, I did not really plan day to day what to do. I kind of just took random buses and saw where they would take me. Fare is only a dollar, and there are no bus transfers or tickets given, so the longer you ride one bus the further your dollar takes you. I found myself on a beach in Kihei often, being one of the few beaches I knew how to get to via public transit.
The beaches seemed pretty clean for being right on a well-traveled road. I even left my stuff alone on the beach to run into the ocean really quick, since it is always too cold on the Oregon coast to even imagine doing such a thing. I was amazed at the clear water but got paranoid pretty quickly about my things being on the beach unattended. Such is the downfall of traveling alone.
On other occasions I did check out the aquarium and some other touristy areas. I have a love of aquariums and zoos (I guess a love/hate relationship with zoos, actually) and try to visit one or the other wherever I go. According to the website, ticket prices for adults have gone up considerably since I visited. Nothing particularly jumped out at me as being a more extraordinary aquarium than any other, so whether or not it is worth the ticket price is up to individual judgment. I traveled to Lahaina one day, but the main boardwalk area just reminded me of an open-air mall and it was all very touristy, the only thing worth noting for me was the fact that I saw a whale while I was eating in a seafood restaurant there that jutted out over the ocean.
After a few days it became quite apparent to me that Wailuku was a fairly sleepy town and everything seemed to close down pretty early. I often traveled back to my hostel before it got too dark out, just so I could see where I was going. I even ended up in idle conversation with a woman working at the gas station mini mart just to have something to do one evening while buying some snacks and a drink. She had a few tattoos and asked me about my body art. This was the first stranger to strike up conversation with me about this topic and I felt comfortable discussing my tattoos and piercings with her. I had been quite nervous about traveling to an area where I was not sure how I would be received with my appearance and all. As far as I could tell, most people did not even give me a second glance, but I am pretty good at ignoring unwanted attention anyway.
A couple notable things about Wailuku: when standing in the intersection of Main and High Streets, I found it unendingly spectacular how I could look one direction and see beautiful blue ocean, while looking the other direction provided a great view of a mountain covered in greenery with rainclouds around the top. This lush, jungle-like area is known as ‘Iao Valley, a little over three miles to the west from Wailuku.
I attempted to walk to the valley one day, but the humidity was making it quite difficult for me to breathe, and there are no sidewalks on the road there. This made me very uncomfortable and I gave up about halfway there and turned back. Another unfortunate aspect of traveling alone with no driver’s license. Much of the island is out of reach by public transit.
The oldest building I noticed in Wailuku was a little church with a tiny graveyard, a park-like area with some tables and lots of little roosters roaming around. In fact, it seemed the oldest buildings I saw anywhere on the island were religious in nature.
I apologize for the poor quality photos, as this was my first trip alone, I did not want to bring my bulky digital SLR and was using my cell phone for all photos.
When I realized I was running out of things to see via bus, I finally got the courage to dial the number of my connection there, the friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend situation. Tune in next week to read the concluding chapter of my visit to Maui.
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