With my friend Tina Tierney, it's always an extreme adventure. No lying about on the beach for the two of us.
For about two decades, we have explored various spots on Earth that we loosely refer to as "nature parks." Back when we were young mothers taking spring break road trips, we tortured our children with a visit to a different "nature park" every day. No Disney or Epcot, just the real Georgia and Florida.
"Not another nature park!" the kids would groan. But they'd stop bellyaching when we were chugging in a little motor boat through, say, the alligator-infested waters of the Okefenokee Swamp.
It was cool, enumerating 'gators. I think we counted up to 33 of them.
Another time we stopped for a quick "45-minute loop" in a state park in Northern Florida. The ranger warned us, "Watch out for water moccasins. They can be in the puddles." Wouldn't you know, the 45-minute loop was full of puddles. So we deviated from the loop. And deviated. And deviated.
As the hours passed and the sultry day grew hotter, our hands swelled with edema. We had started out with one water bottle for each of us, but our kids had spent their supply early on with a water fight. There were black pools of fetid water all around us, nothing we'd want to drink. At one point, Tina looked down at the path just in time before her foot landed on a baby rattlesnake. I never saw a woman leap so high. (They say baby rattlers shoot all their venom and so are supremely lethal. I still have horrid imaginings of dragging Tina's dead body through the forest with four crying kids trailing behind.)
About four hours after we began our "45 minute loop," we realized night was falling and we were so lost that we'd have to make some sort of camp there in spite of the ticks and mosquitoes and water moccasins and rattlers. (This was in the time before cell phones.) But as dusk surrounded us, we spotted a ranger who was fishing. All six of us piled into the box of his pickup truck. We were, I think, an unusual sight: six white people with black feet in the rear of a pickup driven by a black ranger. He traveled on the shoulder of the road back to the visitor center, stopping only to pick up a rattlesnake on the way. He steered with his right hand, hanging his left hand out the window and dangling the rattler that he planned to show a new ranger.
Nowadays, our kids are long grown and Tina and I are in our "mature" years (although I'm 14 years more mature than she is). I have five grand-boys and Tina's first is due in May. The photo above shows us standing on a lava bed at the start of our most recent extreme adventure, on Maui, in the dead of winter - January 2015.
Why the oh-so-attractive dive skins? you might ask. Well, according to Tina, a Ted Talk explains that sharks are repelled by black and white stripes. So we purchased dive skins and had our trusty seamstress, Kathy Bitante, stitch on the white strips. We haven't decided what to call ourselves: perhaps "reefer convicts?" or "convict tangs?" or "coral bandit snakes" or "prisoners of the sea?"
For this most recent adventure, Tina and I are traveling with our "cabana boy," Gavin (her husband). My dear husband, Mike, is home in Wisconsin (balmy for January this year, at around 15 - 30 degrees most days) in what I hope is one of his last years as a CPA during tax season.
Here is Gavin at the end of a marathon he ran during our first Sunday in Maui. Although he's an American citizen now, Gav lived his first 21 years in County Meath, Ireland, all-too-familiar with grey dampness. Gavin appreciates the sun, even if he's running 26.2 miles through it. He found an Irish flag at the finish line and sent this image to his folks back home.
As I write this, we're winding down two weeks on this Valley Isle. We have four days remaining in our escape from what we hope is the worst of Wisconsin's winter.
So how has it been? you might ask. It's been wonderful, in spite of the fact that my friends have found eight ways to try to kill me. Add the three ways I tried to do myself in, and it's been another extreme adventure for this 64-year-old woman. For every place we snorkeled, there was a long and treacherous walk. We had to prepare for slipping and sliding on the way, then for sharks and sunburn once we were there. But for every risk we took, we were rewarded with viewing the most colorful coral reef fish in the world (see photos at end of blog post)....
1. The invisible path. In the West Maui loop, we hiked sharp, jagged and colorful lava rock along a "path" I could not see, to Ahihi Cove. "Gavin, you're making this up," I accused him when he insisted there was a path...you can't see footprints on rock! When we finally got to snorkel, it was beautiful of course. Then I got to a deep part and I suddenly felt myself channeling my husband's fear of snorkeling in the depths. I could sense the panic starting in my chest and suddenly the words came to me: "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." That calmed me somehow. Thank you, FDR.
2. Rock climbing. In Kapalua, we clambered over lava rocks to see Dragon's Teeth - a place where hot molten lava must have met rough Pacific waves, and cooled into points. I found it helpful sometimes to use my hands as well as my feet, moving along like a clumsy crab. You can gauge our age differences in the photo below where you'll notice that Gavin has been hiking in flip-flops, Tina in rubber sandals, and me in sturdy water shoes.
|The Dragon's Teeth|
3. Falling on a flat surface. On our trek to the Olivine Pools, I was thinking "This isn't so rough to walk," when I found myself sliding along the gravel path. I fell and got several abrasions on my leg. This danger I don't blame on Tina and Gav, just on my own clumsiness. Later I realized there was lava debris embedded in the abrasion. It bugged me and I fantasized about taking a toothpick to it, but opted for the more gentle saltwater bath method of removal. A couple of snorkel outings later, the wound was washed clean.
4. Leaping into a tube. In the Olivine Pools on the West Maui loop, Tina and I jumped into the water pool created by what's known as a "lava tube." I still don't understand exactly how the tubes were created. After we jumped in, we snorkeled - of course.
|This is the terrain we hiked to and from the water.|
5. Learning to respect high tide. In Honolua, we wanted to see a two-tiered tidal pool we read about in a Maui guidebook, but we had no idea where we were going. We hiked on an unapproved trail, through an overgrown meadow, and over jagged lava rocks.
We met a local guy returning. "Leave markers for yourself," he warned us. We had brought our snorkel gear but no water to drink, and as we trudged on and on, I recalled the warning from the naturalist who was the guide for our whale watch excursion a day or two earlier: "Hydrate or die," she said, in all seriousness.
Next we met a group of battered and bandaged foreign people. Wow, I thought, who would have thought to bring Bandaids? We pressed on and found the pools. They were calm but the sea was wild just beyond, and the tide was clearly coming in. We didn't linger. The photos below show you the pools and the terrain we traversed. Note the wild sea just beyond the pools.
6. The flipper episode. Just before we left our condo in Kahani, West Maui, I was dumping our garbage when I noticed a passel of flippers, snorkels and masks resting at the top of the pile inside the dumpster. I told Tina, "There's a bunch of snorkel gear in the dumpster." She got big eyes and said, "Well, let's go get it."
We rescued a couple of pairs of flippers and one set of goggles that were usable. The flippers were exactly my size, and better than the cheap pair I had bought at Maui Walmart because I hadn't brought my own nice ones along. I decided to try them on in the parking lot. I lifted one foot, then the other, and flapped each foot up and down to test if the fins would stay on. At some point I stepped right onto the long end of one of the flippers and tripped myself. Down I went. No abrasions this time, just hurt pride. This is the second trial I blame on myself, not my intrepid Maui guides Tina and Gavin.
7. The road to Hana. After a week in West Maui, it was time for the road to Hana - an experience that terrified me. In 2007, Mike and I accompanied Tina and Gavin on a Hawaii trip where I made them turn around long before we reached Hana, because I couldn't handle the curves and the height.
The road to Hana is famous for "64 miles, 620 curves, and 59 bridges." I don't know how many hundreds of feet it rises above the sea as it winds sharply through tropical rain forest. Most of the way we traveled about 15 mph, taking turns with other cars to cross the ancient one-lane bridges.
I had packed some Valium for the trip this time, but I didn't use it. I was quite proud of myself, especially because we traveled through our first bad weather - a driving rain storm. Normally the trip to Hana takes about two and a half hours; I don't know how long it took us in the storm. At one point, a landslide had plopped a big tree and root ball on the road; a crew was working to move it. Stopped in our tracks, we watched their progress (or lack thereof) for a long time. Note in the photo the big dents in the guard rail. I spent a lot of time wondering what created those.
When we finally got past that scene, we came upon a giant boulder in the middle of the road. Again, cars took turns to drive around it.
8. Struggling to Red Sand Beach. In Hana, we decided to go snorkeling at the beach known also to Gavin and Tina as The Old Naked Hippies Doing Tai Chi On The Beach Beach. The path to the beach was landslide-y and missing sections. There were two official government signs posting danger warnings. We met a local guy returning from the beach and he said, "Watch out for the roley poleys."
It was true: the path was loaded with little round things. What were they - maybe lava debris? - I don't know, but they were slippery like ball bearings. We walked along foot paths a hundred feet or more above the sea. One lady returning from the beach was bleeding at her ankle. I tried not to look down at the water. I kept flashing on the scene in Lord of the Flies where poor Piggy lies at the bottom of just such a cliff, his brains bashed against a rock. To keep from falling, we had to walk sideways or with our toes outward ("like a penguin," as we are taught to walk on ice up north). Gavin said later, "One wrong step meant certain death or some really cool scars."
PS There were no naked people at the beach, but there was one skinny old guy who sat under a tree. He had a long white beard and no shoes. I was amazed when I watched him climb the cliff path in those bare feet.
9. Going through the steer field to the Venus pools. We walked through a farm field where, the day before, a couple of hundred steers grazed. I had napped through that adventure in the car while Tina and Gavin forged ahead. Tina told me later that one steer seemed intent upon eating bananas at the improvised fruit stand of a guy who was trying to sell coconuts. The guy was yelling at the steer, who was blocking the fruit stand. He kept trying to get the animal to move away. The steer kept challenging him with its big body. Tina got out of there as fast as she could. Gavin, undeterred, calmly passed - he knows about such "Irish traffic jams."
The next day I passed through the field with Tina and Gavin, and there wasn't a steer in sight. So by pure accident, I avoided one other way to get killed: by a mad banana-craving steer. By now I had climbed over so many rocks to arrive at snorkel places that I was getting used to it. However, this time when we found the water, there was no easy approach. We had to jump in. But that wasn't the scary part; the scary part was climbing out again.
"There's no way I'll get out," I told Gavin, who assured me, "I'll get you out."
Below is a photo of Tina and me snorkeling at this spot. It was flat, calm water, low tide, with the wild sea beyond.
When we felt cold and wanted to leave, we couldn't get any play on the smooth rocks covered with slippery seaweed. We found what slender footholds and handholds we could, and Gavin had to sit on his haunches like an ape and lean back with all his power to provide counter-weight to leverage us out of the water. Thank God for our cabana boy.
What if we had pulled him in? Later on he confessed that he had taken his phone and wallet out of his pocket "just in case." After this episode, I was inspired to invent new words for the old Kingston Trio song, "Charlie and the M.T.A."...
"Let me tell you the story
of two women from Wisconsin
who got trapped in a Hana pool -
They swam with the fishes
and made cairns on the shore,
and relied on strangers for food....
And did they ever return?
No, they never returned,
and their fate is still unlearned.
They may swim forever
in the pool in Hana,
they're the women who never returned."
After we got out of the pool using the most ungraceful positions imaginable, a couple of dozen young men and women arrived - Americans and Germans. They took turns jumping into the water from a high cliff. They had some trouble getting out again, but nothing like we did. I think they might have had something called "upper body strength."
10. Eating wild guava. This land is a Garden of Eatin', and I was thrilled to find feral guava trees. Apparently guava is an invasive species here and everyone hates it. I saw a bumper sticker that read "Guava happens." Anyway, after I picked and ate one of the wild guavas with a great number of "Mmmmmms," we visited the gallery of artist Karen Davidson and she told us that you have to watch out for guavas because they often have fruit fly maggots crawling around in them. Argh. Tina was very comforting when she told me I could be a candidate for the TV show "Monsters Inside Me."
This is my third and last peril that I don't blame on Gavin or Tina.
11. Hiking up the hill to the cross. Gavin had been such a good sport watching our bags while we snorkeled hither and yon that when he suggested that we hike up the hill across from Hotel Hana, we said sure why not. There was a big cross at the top of the hill, and I learned why.
While Gavin ambled upward with his hands held casually behind his back, I was praying I'd make it. I had to keep stopping to catch my breath. It was only three-quarters of a mile but my heart was pounding. There were lots of cow pies and a sign asking us to respect the cows, pigs, and ancient holy sites. We saw one black cow resting in shade and another nursing her calf. It was humbling when we walked down the hill to meet a couple in their late 70s hiking up the path toward us.
I will say, though, that the man held his hand on his heart as he hiked up.
|At the top of the hill|
|The view from the top of the hill|
So those are the eight ways that my friends have tried to kill me and the three ways I tried to do myself in. If you want a liesurely tour of Maui, do not enlist Gavin and Tina Tierney as your guides.
We did other things that were less death-defying, like going whale watching, for instance. Maui waters in January are in the height of whale migration; the seas are full of them. Tina and I heard whale songs underwater while we were snorkeling!! Also, in our whale-watching boat, they had an aquaphone and we heard the songs magnified - a great variety of indescribably beautiful sounds.
We saw mama humpbacks, baby humpbacks, and their companion males. We saw a baby jump. The baby breach is called a "flying pickle," because that's how it looks. We learned the baby is small - about the size of a pickup truck. The mama may be 45 feet long and weigh 45 tons.
The sound of the whales' enormous "Phhhowwwww" spouting near the boat was as thrilling as seeing the creatures. Even from shore, we saw many many whale spouts and the backs and tails of many of the giant beasts as they rolled along.
|On the whale-watching sailboat|
Everywhere on Maui is such beauty that it looks fake, like a movie backdrop: spooky volcanic mountains, foliage growing on foliage growing on foliage, a giant rainbow ("No rain, no rainbow").
It's a thrill also to behold the multitude of species here, animal and plant - the incredibly beautiful spiders that hang everywhere in the botanical garden where we're staying in Hana, the little mongoose running about, the shy birds that hide but don't stop singing,the fruit that fairly drips from the trees...guava, pineapple, avocado, papaya, banana, breadfruit, coconut, surinam cherry, lilikoi, lychee, oranges, lemons. And trees, beautiful trees - many kinds of palm tree, banyan trees big as a city block, bamboo forests knocking and creaking in the wind.
The pace is slow here - it has to be because of the narrow roads. They call it a "highway" but we seldom go more than 15 mph. When we get on a straight section and Gavin drives 30 mph, it feels as if he's break-neck speeding.
I'm listening to crickets as I write this in the Hana night. Back home in Wisconsin, we don't hear their serenade until August.
Below are some pictures of the beauties we've been seeing...
|View of West Maui from the Pacific Whale Foundation sailboat (slight view of humpback also)|
|Lava rock, lava rock everywhere|
|Jungle jungle everywhere|
|rainbow parrot fish|
butterfly fish (It's thought that they mate for life, said the naturalist on the Pacific Whale Foundation boat)
humu humu nuku nuku apua'a (state fish of Hawaii, the humu trigger fish)
The octopus we saw changed colors several times as we watched, camouflaging itself into the environment.
Sugar cane spider
Gail Grenier is the author of Calling All Horses, Dog Woman, Don't Worry Baby, and Dessert First, all available on Amazon.com.
Sugar cane spider
Gail Grenier is the author of Calling All Horses, Dog Woman, Don't Worry Baby, and Dessert First, all available on Amazon.com.