Places I’ve Lived #4 – Mendocino, California

Mendocino, CaliforniaWhen I write about my childhood – it sounds bizarre, even to me.  Shortly after I started first grade, my father once again decided it was time to go someplace new…but once again, it didn’t last long. The dynamics of my parent’s relationship were already terrible – so who knows if this had something to do with it – cause or effect, at this point it doesn’t really matter. In any event, my father had built a fairly successful painting business in Big Bear Lake but when he’d met my mother he had been a musician in several mildly successful bands…at some point in the 1970’s he started playing music again, hanging out in nudist camps and then he started taking tai-chi lessons from a nomadic puppeteer named Rio.

A strange friendship was born. Rio was building a live in gypsy wagon on the back of a RIO truck and he and his love, Nancy – were going to move to Mendocino. While the truck was being built, we started receiving huge numbers of packages from outdoor catalogs because it turned out that Nancy had been married when she and Rio met and now she was sticking it to her husband by maxxing out his credit cards and having all the stuff sent to our house (since they lived in a tent while the truck was being built). Nancy had two lovely little girls (Spirit and Isis) and a cool little boy (Gabe) and we all became great hippie friends. Rio was this amazing young Gandolph figure – he was a puppeteer, a carpenter and tai-chi master – his truck was being built as a traveling stage for his puppet shows.

Once the truck was built and all the dried foods, survival gear, etc was loaded – it was time to go and Dad once again decided he would rent out our house as an income property and leave all of our possessions locked in the garage/storeroom he had built. Off we went…I think my dad was planning on starting a new band or something, but we ended up in Mendocino. We rented a creepy white house that was high on a bluff above the ocean. I’m pretty sure it was haunted or that some Manson murder shit had gone down there. My brother and I were enrolled in school in nearby Fort Bragg and all went well that winter – except in terms of my parent’s marriage. Dad and Rio would disappear for weeks at a time. Eventually, mom had enough and we packed it all up and went back to our house in Big Bear where once again, short term renters had trashed our house, broken into the storeroom, and stolen anything of value.

That’s my personal story of Mendocino – but here is a bit about the town itself:

Mendocino, California

Mendocino, CaliforniaMendocino, just north of San Francisco was founded in 1850 as a lumber town because of the proximity to the mighty and beautiful redwoods. In the 1940s it became a sort of artist colony and has been known as such ever since. The town sits on huge bluffs above the Pacific Ocean and is home to one of the oldest Chinese temples in the USA, dating back to 1854.  The temple of Kwan Yin is dedicated to the goddess of medicine and peace.

Mendocino has appeared in a lot of Hollywood productions, most prominent was the TV Series “Murder She Wrote” in which the town was fronted as being a village in Maine. It’s a beautiful and cool place. Here’s a few bizarre facts –

  • The nearby town of Booneville had it’s own language called Boontling.
  • The Manson family actually did rent a house (well before we lived there) in Mendocino and I’d bet money it’s the same creepy one we lived in
  • It rains a lot in Mendocino
  • Mendocino has less than 1000 people and a lot of Bed and Breakfasts

 

Places I’ve Lived #3, Mazatlan, Mexico

Mazatlan, Mexico I’m happy I had the chance to live outside of the USA as a child – I’m also glad that I got to experience Mexico first hand before the racist bigots who surrounded me growing up had a chance to completely distort my view of this beautiful country and the warm, generous, and hard working Mexican people.

It was common among white people in California during the 60s, 70s, and 80s to denigrate, belittle, and trash talk about Mexican people – sadly, this was especially true in hillbilly places like Big Bear Lake which tended to be filled with bikers, outlaws, and descendants of dustbowl migrants from the 1930s. As a white person, I’m ashamed of that truth – but a truth it is.

As I mentioned though, I was heavily innoculated against it by my father making a terrible decision. “Let’s rent out our house for the winter and drive to Mexico” Never mind that our car was a barely running piece of shit Ford Pinto station wagon. Off we went.

Mazatlan, MexicoThe car broke down and my father was either unable or unwilling to fix it for several months so we rented a house in Mazatlan, made friends with a bunch of Mexican people, and even attempted to go to school without knowing even a little bit of Spanish. I made some friends, played football (soccer), and played on the beach a lot. My friend Manuel and I found a dead whale on the beach once…

Eventually, mom forced dad to fix the car and back we went to Big Bear Lake where renters had trashed our house and stolen most of our possessions.  That’s my story – but here’s a bit about Mazatlan.

Mazatlan, Mexico

Mazatlan, MexicoMazatlan is in the state of Sinaloa – roughly parallel with the southern tip of Baja, California. This is weird given the Octoberfest connection to Big Bear Lake. Mazatlan was founded in 1531 by Spaniards and Indigenous people but it was settled largely by a group of Bavarian immigrants in the 1800s. Bring on the Polka Tots!

Mazatlan is most famous for the miles and miles of beautiful beaches, the old lighthouse and famous cliff jumpers, and the longest boardwalk promenade in the world. It was the first town in the world to suffer an aerial bombardment and for decades had the only English language newspaper in Mexico.  Mazatlan is home to the largest carnival and the largest aquarium in Mexico.

I need to go back…I wonder what ever happened to Manuel?

Mazatlan, Mexico

Places I’ve Lived #2 – Big Bear Lake, California

Big Bear Lake Ski ResortThere’s no place I’ve lived (with the possible exception of Hawaii) that has had such a huge effect on who I am as Big Bear Lake, California. My parents moved there around 1972-73 from Tacoma, Washington – most of my mom’s family followed us. I lived in Big Bear for two distinct periods – my normal, privileged and happy childhood from 1973-1981 and then an incredibly dysfunctional early-teen period from 1985-1988. Like many kids, my life changed dramatically after my parents went through an ugly and violent divorce. Most of my happy childhood memories come from the 73-81 period. At the time, our family was prosperous – we were surrounded by uncles, aunts, cousins, grandparents, and friends. Here are some of the amazing things I remember from Big Bear Lake.

Massive Snowstorms

Big Bear LakeI’m not talking about little snowstorms or a foot on the ground. I’m talking about full on blizzards where our house got buried. We had to jump out the second floor window to get out! 8-10 feet of snow. Big Bear is in the mountains above Los Angeles but it sits at an elevation of nearly 7000′ feet. One great thing about all that snow was snow days, snow forts, and playing in the snow all winter long. There were two ski resorts in Big Bear in those days Snow Summit and Goldmine (now Bear Mountain). We had annual season passes at Snow Summit and ski lessons were an essential part of being a kid in Big Bear. Our winter jacket’s were festooned with colored B’s to denote our level. If memory serves – the Red B was the expert skiier.

Big Bear Lake, Jenks Lake, Baldwin Lake

There were a number of snow fed lakes in the area, so summer was a time of swimming and water skiing. We would also wander the shallows searching for giant orange carp in the lake or fish for blu gill, bass, and trout. Jenk’s Lake was a tiny lake where school trips would go to learn about nature and do camp activities. In the winter, the lakes would completely freeze over and it was common for ‘dumb flatlanders’ (our term for weekend visitors from L.A.) to fall through the ice.

Fawnskin and Fawnskin Caverns

On one side of the lake is the tiny village of Fawnskin (which is strange because my sister is named Fawn) – as a teen, I wandered and drank all through this area. During all of the time I was living there, it was a fun pasttime to hike and climb in Fawnskin. There was a huge complex of boulder made caverns which were most fun to climb in (and most dangerous) during the winter months when they were filled with ice and snow.

Old Miner’s Days and Hell’s Angels

Every summer there was a festival celebrating the rough and ready miner’s who had flooded the valley in 49′. This weeks long festival included a multi-day burro race around the valley, burro baseball, a parade, a Miss Clementine and Mr. Kadiddlehopper Pageant, and much more. The Hell’s Angels were always around during this time – in fact they loved Big Bear and were frequent visitors – they sponsored school picnics and some of the teachers were even members of the famous biker gang.

Big Dick Rock

Big Bear has huge boulder piles everywhere. I’m not sure what geology created that – but every kid in Big Bear knew about ‘Big Dick Rock’

Big Bear Dam (old and new)

Big Bear has an old dam which is usually under water and a new dam that traffic crosses. The ‘New Dam’ was built in the 1930s.

China Island

There’s a tiny island in an area called Boulder Bay – that has a bunch of Chinese houses built on it. My aunt and uncle lived there for a year. It’s scenic and pretty strange….I’ve heard the owner lives on Maui.

The Rifle Range

There’s a rifle range in Big Bear and as kids we used to go there and collect lead bullets. Sometimes when people were shooting. We got chased away many times – it was incredibly stupid.

Old Mines and Cabins

Big Bear has lots of National Forest land and if you dig around in it (as we did a lot of) you will find mines, old caverns, old cabins, and in the 1970s – things like boxes of dynamite. We did incredibly stupid things with all of that stuff and somehow never killed ourselves.

‘Down the Hill’

When you live in Big Bear – every other place is ‘down the hill’ and people from other parts of California are called ‘flatlanders’. Going ‘down the hill’ meant going to Los Angeles, San Bernardino, San Diego, or other places.

The Old Juniper Tree fort in Whispering Forest

Generations of kids have built tree forts in the old Juniper tree that sits across from my childhood home. Despite the itchy bark, the big drops, and the territoriality of kids like me – this tree has been the dreaming and hanging out space for many growing kids.

Holcomb Valley

Holcomb Valley Big Bear LakeHolcomb Valley with it’s decrepit town of Belleville, the abandoned shacks, hidden gold mines, rifle and shotgun casings, herds of mules and packs of coyotes, hidden springs, and deep desolate and lonely hidden places – there should be songs written about this place.

The Crow’s Nest, The Poop Deck, Chad’s, and The Bear’s Den

I don’t know how many of these bars remain – but Big Bear Lake had the most colorful drinking establishment names of anywhere I’ve ever lived. Sure, maybe Chad’s doesn’t sound that exciting until you see three hundred Harley’s parked in the streets in front of it. As kids, we spent a lot of time at the Big Bear Arcade across the street and would all pile out to watch bikers beat the hell out of each other in the streets during the middle of the day.

The Bear Statues and Octoberfest

Big Bear used to have these beautiful standing bear statues that would welcome you into town. Visitors and residents would dress the bears which stood on top of rock pillars. Sometimes in snow jackets, goggles, hats, or winter gear – other times in bikinis. They were the childhood mascots to the town.

Each October there would be a week long drinking festival – I don’t think there were a lot of Germans in Big Bear but there were certainly a lot of drinkers so it was a big deal. Our parents put us in a children’s dance troop called the Polka Tots and we would train in Bavarian dance and travel to events throughout Southern California to dance in leiderhosen for the boys and frilly  dresses and braids for the girls. It was a very strange thing to do.

Pan Hot Springs

Pan Hot SpringsI learned to swim in beautiful thermal pools that smelled slightly of sulfur. I was never a particularly good swimmer but I will always appreciate the fact that I learned to swim in pools created by mountain hot springs.

Rattlesnakes, Scorpions, Coyotes, Raccoons, Burros, Mountain Lions, and Bears

There’s a lot more to remember about Big Bear – it was an amazing place to be a child – but probably the most striking memory is the proximity of nature to us. We used to encounter rattlesnakes on a regular basis – we would flip stones and catch snakes and scorpions with old glass jars. The yip yip of coyotes was a part of the lullaby that would put us to sleep and the braying of the wild burro herds would startle us awake – at which point we would watch them be chased from yards and gardens in the neighborhood. We didn’t see a lot of bears in those days – but they and the mountain lions were about – we’d catch sign of them on the trails – pawprints, piles of poo, the acrid musky odor of a mountain lion or lynx.

This was my childhood. It sounds like a time long ago – and I guess as I write this it was generally four decades ago – but when I look at pictures or think about how different the world was then – it seems like it was much much longer. I love the memories of my childhood in Big Bear Lake, California.

Places I’ve Lived #1 – Tacoma, Washington, USA

Tacoma, WashingtonThis is going to be a series of twenty-five (and maybe more later) articles about the cities and towns around the world where I have lived. First of all, some definition is required. In the childhood period, I define a place where I lived as somewhere where my parents had jobs and worked and I lived with them. In adulthood, I define a place where I lived as anywhere that I had a space of my own and worked. So for example – hotels don’t count unless I was living in them for extended periods and had a job in the same town (so conferences don’t count). At the moment in mid-2019, I’ve listed twenty-five places – there are a few places that I’ve left and gone back to which I don’t count more than once – and since I’ve written pretty extensively about Hawaii – I’ve combined my first stint in Hawaii (2001-2008) into one place even though it included Oahu and Kauai – and made my current stay in Honolulu(2017-present) into another. This isn’t a formal study or anything – but I wanted to explain my methodology. Why am I doing this? Not for any particular reason except there are interesting tidbits about each of these places – and I want to share.

Tacoma, WashingtonSo, to start – I was born in Tacoma, Washington. My father’s family has been in Washington since early pioneer times. Our family is listed in the state archives as some of the first European descent settlers in the region.  Mostly our family lived in the Aberdeen, Tacoma, Puyallup, and Seattle areas. My mom is a native Californian but my dad managed to get her to live in Washington for a couple of years around the time of my birth.

Tacoma is named for the Native-American name of Mt. Raineer. It is a port city and was once the terminus for the Northern Pacific Railroad. The region was mostly known for lumber and paper mills and during the 1960s and 1970s it was a pretty rough place to be. The paper mills created a fart smell that was known as ‘the Tacoma Aroma’. In the early 1900s, Tacoma was a hotbed of radical union organizing and was the site of a massive wobbly (Industrial Workers of the World IWW) strike. In the 1920s, Tacoma was a formidable rival to Hollywood to become the center of the movie industry. California‘s better climate proved to be an insurmountable advantage. Tacoma declined in the 20th century to become one of the least livable cities in the USA with high crime, high unemployment, and many abandoned buildings. In the 1990s, the city began turning itself around – today, it is known as one of the most livable cities in the USA! Pretty amazing!

Tacoma, WashingtonThere are really two things I love about Tacoma – as a child when we would visit my grandfather – we would always take a trip to the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium  in Point Defiance Park which itself is more than 700 acres. The zoo and aquarium are world class and made it hard for me to appreciate lessor facilities later in my life. Tacoma is also well known as a center for glass art – world renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly comes from Tacoma and his beautiful large scale glassworks are seen throughout the city.

Like many cities – there is much more to Tacoma than just this – but you will have to go there to experience it.

Tacoma, Washington

3 Adventurous Reasons Majorca Isn’t Just for Retirees

I hate to admit that my travel has been seriously curtailed these past couple of years by a couple of things. First, living in the USA has caused some serious changes in our lives. Unless you are in the top 10% of wealth, living in the USA is expensive and requires one or both parts of a couple to work fairly constantly – the time constraints of that alone make travel difficult and then add in the monetary constraints – especially living in Honolulu, Hawaii – one of the least affordable places in the USA.  So, time and money and then the constraint of having a school age child. Essentially, we are both needed for school drop-offs and pick-ups, swim lessons, etc during all but the peak holiday travel periods – which in the USA means that our family only has the opportunity to travel during the periods when travel companies raise their rates by as much as 50% for airlines, cars, hotels and more. The point is – living in the USA generally makes travel unaffordable for families. Living in Hawaii with a family (because you have to fly to get anywhere from Hawaii and we don’t have budget airlines like RyanAir in the USA) makes travel not quite impossible, but for people with our income level  – close to impossible. Still, I’m not complaining – we love it here and I still enjoy putting together future trips. With that in mind, I bring you Majorca (also spelled Mallorca sometimes)

If you are like a lot of people, when you hear Majorca, you think of British retirees basking in the gorgeous sunlight and enjoying warmth and fresh air while they enjoy the retired life. The truth is Majorca has a lot going for it if you are looking for adventure too. These three adventures are just a small selection of truly awesome Majorca adventures that are not for those with heart conditions or severe vericose veins (though they might be doable even if you do have those things)

Majorca Adventure #1: Canyoning

Tramuntana mountain RangeCanyoning involves walking, scrambling, climbing, jumping, abseiling and/or swimming through a canyon. The limestone in Majorca’s Tramuntana mountain range boasts many canyons that have been carved out over millions of years by water. These narrow gorges, with beautifully sculpted walls and waterfalls provide a striking setting for this all-action activity. This is one activity that your grandparents are not going to be seen doing during their Majorca holidays.

The sport is practised throughout the year in Mallorca with the best weather from October to April when the rainfall is at its heaviest. I don’t know why it’s better with heavy rain, but for some reason, that’s the season to do it. Could have to do with the lush greenery and scenic waterfalls – or maybe the mud makes it more treacherous.

The top places to go canyoning on Majorca are Torrente Coanegre, Torrente Na Mora, and Torrente Sa Fosca

Majorca Adventure #2: Sea Kayaking

Majorca Sea KayakingSure, you might be thinking of calm seas and easy paddling, but the truth is there is some incredibly challenging blue water around Majorca. Whether you choose guided or self guided, the place to start is Playa d’en Repic Beach in Puerto Soller. Paddling north along the coastline, in the direction of Cala Tuent, you will find caves, blowholes and rocky inlets, and if you are lucky you may come across a dolphin or two.
A nice destination is s’Illeta, a small island, about 4 kilometres from Playa d’en Repic which is home to a large colony of cormorant and has an exceptionally large cave – the Vell Mari – which is more than 500 metres deep. Are you brave enough to paddle in?

Majorca Adventure #3: Cliff Jumping
Majorca Cliff JumpingIt Cala San Vincente, close to Pollensa, you can find some amazing cliffs overlooking the sea. You can jump in – if you dare. The cliffs can be up to 15 meters high and it’s an amazingly terrifying experience! Make sure if you decide to jump that you wear sensible shoes, you know the depth of the water and you aim for the right spot. In fact, an organized cliff jumping trip with a group, where you will be guided by an expert is probably a good idea. The cliffs are very sharp so it’s important that the currents are not too strong, but this sport can take place all year round thanks to the warm temperatures in Majorca.

10 Hilarious Reasons Not to Travel

Reasons not to travel
“You are not here!”

There are plenty of reasonable reasons not to travel, but in my years of writing about travel and working in hospitality, I’ve also come across some people who have reasons that I’ve found to be absolutely hilarious. Here are ten of them.

My Feet Hurt
While I was managing a hotel in Istanbul, it was not uncommon for people to have to cancel their reservations for one reason or another. We never asked them why, but they frequently told us. The best excuse I remember was a woman who wrote that she wouldn’t be coming to Istanbul because her feet hurt so she’d cancelled her flight.

I’m Afraid My House Will Get Stolen
While living on the island of Kauai, I met a woman who was in her 90’s that had never been more than five miles from where she was born. I asked her if she wanted to see the world and her answer was “I’d love to but I’m afraid someone would steal my house.”

Don't travel

I Don’t Like to See New Things
It might sound hilarious to us, but the truth is there are people out there who don’t want to leave their comfort zone. Travel means new things, new ways of thinking, and new experiences. I’ve met these people.

I’m Afraid My Ex Will Find Out
I was chatting with an old high school pal on social media. Life had been a little rough on him and he was paying alimony and child support. When I suggested he travel, he said he’d love to but he was afraid his ex would find out.

I Don’t Want to Waste Money
Personally I can’t think of a better way to waste money than on travel, but there are plenty of people out there who think of travel as the same thing as throwing money out the window.

I Am Scared of Foreigners
This is a bit sad, but a lot of people in our terror-conscious world are scared of foreigners. Never mind that most of our ancestors were foreigners at some point or other. When I was washing dishes in Florence, Oregon a group of French people came in the restaurant. One of the cooks asked me if he should call the police. I assured him the group of old people were probably not dangerous, although they did leave quite a mess without leaving a tip.

Crunky

I Don’t Want to Miss the Next Episode of…
There are people so addicted to television that they put their lives on hold in order to catch the next episode of American Idol, Desperate Housewives, or other shows. Imagine if they learned about Arab Idol or China’s Got Talent.

I’d Rather Work
Really? What are you working for? My suggestion is that you make your life your work.

My Town or City Has Everything
I’ve met people who love their own city/provence/country so much that they decide to not go anywhere else. How can you be so sure your place has it all if you haven’t seen anywhere else? I don’t want to spoil it for you, but so far, I haven’t found anywhere with EVERYTHING. Not even close.

I Have a Fear of Being Eaten by Sharks
This isn’t a joke. My friend’s wife is so terrified of sharks that she won’t get in a pool or board a plane that flies over water. Somehow she got it in her head that a plane could crash in the ocean and that would lead to sharks. Sharks aren’t what you need to worry about if the plane crashes.

What’s your most hilarious reason not to travel?

Iwahai: Save Memories with Voice and Place

Introducing Iwahai.  Sign up for the free email tutorial here. Iwahai lets you put voice recordings on a map. It’s easy, it’s revolutionary, and it’s free. Designed by travelers for travelers…and everyone else.

Iwahai Time MachineIwahai Time MachineIwahai Time MachineIwahai Voice Recording on a MapIwahai Time Machine

 

 

Vagabonds: Sometimes Getting Lost Is the Point

Vagabonds: Sometimes Getting Lost Is The Point

Now available on Amazon

From ancient times to the present, brave men and women have wandered from place to place without visible means of income, without reason, and sometimes without a clue. They have defined our history. This is a love letter to these vagabond men and women, the lives they led, and the inspiration born of their journeys.

Vagabonds will introduce or reacquaint you with fifty-one incredible vagabonds who have shaped our collective history. Starting with Herodotus, the father of history and moving all the way to the present, these vagabonds and voyagers snake their way from the ancient past into the middle ages, through the Victorian era up to the twentieth century, and finally bring us right up to the present on the edge of the future.

The men and women in this book are a mixture of ancient heroes, famous writers, tech-nomads, overachieving goal setters, and fly by the seat of their pants adventurers who only plan as far ahead as their next breath. Meet them, be inspired by them, and then find a way to dig in for more.

Christopher Damitio is the author of Rough Living: Tips and Tales of a Vagabond and currently lives in Hawaii. He writes about travel, politics, technology, and more at Vagobond.com and Vagorithm.com.

Available for purchase now in eBook form at Amazon.com

The Road to Hana – The Good, The Bad, The Ugly – Beautiful, Crowded, and Dangerous! Gallery

 

Road to Hana Maui

(Scroll down for my gallery of photos from the Road to Hana)

The Road to Hana – also known as the Hana Highway is Routes 36 and 360 along the East side of Maui. It connects the towns of Kahalui, Paia, and Hana. The destination is not the purpose of taking this trip, literally, you are there to experience the road. There are 59 bridges (most of them one way) and with stops you should count on a minimum of 8-hours round trip. The highway was opened in 1926 and fully paved during the 1960s.

In the early 2000’s on Maui,  I took my rental car the rest of the way from Hana to Ulupalakua Ranch. This route is even more treacherous than the main Road to Hana. I considered doing it this time but when I heard one baby boomer in a Mustang recommending it to another baby boomer in a Jeep, I decided it was a better idea to take the Road to Hana back – surprisingly – we saw very little traffic on the way back – so my assumption is that a majority of people are now taking the so called ‘road less travelled’ (which, if true, makes it the road more travelled).

The Good
The Road to Hana is one of those fantasy trips that people dream about doing. Sixty two miles with more than 620 turns and a natural treasure around every bend. Waterfalls, black sand beaches, green sand beaches, red sand beaches – tropical forest, more waterfalls, hikes to such amazingly named places as the ‘Seven Sacred Pools’. There are absolutely breathtaking views along the way with climbs along the coast up to as high as 4200 feet. Some essential stopping points are Ho’okipa Lookout, Twin Falls, Kaumahina State Wayside Park, Honomanu Bay, Ke’anae Arboretum, Wailua Valley (and falls), Upper Waikani Falls (the three bears), Pua’ Kaa State Wayside, Hanawi Falls, Wai’anapanapa State Park, Kahanu Botanical Gardens, and the Nahiku Marketplace (which, while priced for tourists, still offers some delicious lunch options).

The Road to Hana is beautiful and there are many places worth stopping along the way – if you can find a parking spot. Going past Hana to Kipahulu and Ohe’o Gulch is essential.

The Bad
You can break your budget with mediocre roadside attractions along the way. A good example is the lovely but overpriced ‘Garden of Eden’ -a beautiful botanical garden that charges $15 per person to have a walk in the jungle, buy bird food to feed their birds, and shop in their gallery. Personally, my recommendation is to pass this one as the free botanical gardens, parks, and trails along the way offer everything you can get here (and more).

It’s hard to get a photo at any of the attractions along the way without a whole bunch of tourists (like us) in the background. Patience is the key here. If you are dreaming of being alone in beautiful and remote tropical areas – the Road to Hana is not your destination. Parking at the trailheads, beachparks, and attractions along the way is also a problem – at one point, I felt like I was jockeying for a space at the Iwilei Costco on Oahu (not a recommended experience).

Everything on the Road to Hana is priced at the highest possible amount. This is a well defined tourist route and you are paying tourist prices at every point.

The Ugly
I’d driven the Road to Hana a couple of times in the past. Once in 2005 and again in 2007. This was more treacherous than either of those trips. The problem was the constant stream of rented Ford Mustangs and Jeep Wranglers going in both directions – intersperced with pissed off locals trying to get home or someplace else and willing to make insane passing maneuvers when the Mustangs and Wranglers didn’t pull over to make way.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m sympathetic to both groups. After all, we live on Oahu and are visiting Maui – we were a little bit of both tourist and local, but both groups were engaging in some shitty behaviour. While most of the tourists used the pull outs to let groups of 3 or more cars go past – all it took was one jerk living out his jeep fantasy while holding his GoPro over the t-top who refused to pull over and left a line of ten or more cars behind him to ruin it for everyone. Also, while most of the locals patiently waited for a safe opportunity to pass – there always seemed to be at least one aggressive teenager in an oversized Tonka truck that was willing to play chicken with oncoming cars and endanger everyone. I lost count after the six or seventh near miss – but that was fairly early in the day.

Peace of Maui – Old School Upcountry Maui Living – Peaceful Maui B&B

Peace of Maui Upcountry B&B

I can understand why some people want to come to Maui and stay in the beach resorts in Kapalua, Kaanapali, or Kihei. Maui has beautiful beaches, great snorkeling, and some real high end resort experiences. That’s just not what we are looking for when we come to Maui.

We live on Oahu so we get plenty of beaches, resorts, and tourist activities. For us, the reason to come to Maui is to enjoy a break from tourism, the city, and the grind of traffic and city life on a resort island. We come to Maui to experience more of a simple Hawaii. The kind of Hawaii where you can look up at the stars at night, shower outside under a wealth of flowers, and wake up to birds, deer, and the sounds of nature.

Our go to place for all of that is Peace of Maui, an upcountry B&B located near the Maui cowboy town of Makawao. Peace of Maui is definitely not a resort. If you are looking for five star accommodations, this isn’t the place for you. If you are looking for golfing, beach umbrellas, and early morning swims – this isn’t the place for you. If you are looking for waiters and valets and bellboys and concierge – this isn’t the place for you. You need to know this before you book – you are not booking a luxury vacation at Peace of Maui.

Peace of Maui Upcountry B&B

What you are booking is a chance to enjoy the simple things on Maui. Peace of Maui is hard to classify. B&B might be closest, but from my experience – it’s more like a hostel for grown-ups with private rooms, laid back vibes, and a do-it-yourself ethos that works for those who (like us) don’t really want to stay in a resort that could be in Los Angeles, Miami, Honolulu, the Philippines, Australia, or dozens of other beach destinations. Peace of Maui gives you the chance to stay someplace that is uniquely and totally Hawaii and Maui.

There are no private bathrooms or kitchen unless you rent the cottage. We rented the Hibiscus room, a classic plantation style shack with unobstructed views of Haleakala. The bathrooms are in the main lodge (there are three of them for all rooms to share as well as two indoor showers and an outdoor shower that was near us in the Hibiscus Room.). We had a queen bed, a pullout single bed, a mini-fridge and a dresser. Nothing fancy but comfy beds and pillows, clean sheets, and a locking door.

Peace of Maui Upcountry B&B

Peace of Maui sits on a couple of acres and is surrounded by grasslands at the base of Haleakala. The shared kitchen is reminiscent of youth hostels with each room getting a cupboard and a section of the main refrigerator. The owners, Tammi and Mika live above the main lodge. Their two dogs Ranger and Awahi wander the property freely. There is an outdoor patio area near the kitchen and then a bigger outdoor patio near where we stayed with a hot tub, the outdoor shower, fire pits, and plenty of sitting areas. Mika is building an outdoor kitchen in this area too.

Peace of Maui Upcountry B&B

It should probably be noted, that the owners are Christians and there is a fair amount of Christian material around – be it the artwork, the embroidered towels, or the religious tracts – that being said, at no point was there any sort of conversation regarding religion or anything like that. I mention this because if you are for some reason ‘anti-religion’ or ‘anti-Christian’ this might put you off. We are not Christians and weren’t bothered by any of it, but I know some people have stronger views about his sort of thing. To be honest, I probably would not have booked if this had been obvious on the website – and if that had been the case, we would have missed out on a spectacular place. We really loved it!

Peace of Maui Upcountry B&B

The only reasons we had to go into the main house were to get access to the wifi (it doesn’t reach the Hibiscus Room), use the kitchen, and use the toilets. If there had been an outdoor composting toilet, an outdoor kitchen, and a stronger wifi signal – we would not have needed to go into the house at all. I suspect that all those things are coming. In any event, it’s nearly perfect as it is. Our interactions with other guests took place on the outdoor patio or in the kitchen. We swapped notes on going out the Road to Hana or going up Haleakala and generally interacted a bit less intimately than if we had been in a hostel but a bit more intimately than if we had been in a resort – just right for my tastes at this point in life.

Peace of Maui Upcountry B&B

Peace of Maui is perfectly located for all of your adventures on Maui. Just ten miles from the airport and an easy drive into Paia or Makawao, not far from the farms of Kula and the Haleakala Highway, close to the starting point of the Road to Hana and far enough away from Kihei and Lahaina to be peaceful, but close enough to be convenient. It’s about a 30-minute drive to the Maui Ocean Center, Lahaina, or down to Kihei.

Rooms start at the astoundingly reasonable rate of $115 per night and the cottage starts at $250 per night. This is a small place with limited capacity, so be sure to book early. Make your reservations at www.peaceofmaui.com

Peace of Maui Upcountry B&B

The view of Haleakala from the patio each morning where I drank my coffee.

Maui Ocean Center – The Best Aquarium in Hawaii

Maui Ocean Center

I don’t want fans of the Waikiki Aquarium to get up in arms here – I love that place, but the difference between the Waikiki Aquarium and the Maui Ocean Center is like the difference between community college and university – and that’s all the comparing of the two I will do. The truth is that families traveling with kids will love both places. First let me give a little background.

Maui Ocean Center

The Maui Ocean Center opened in 1998 with the mission of respectfully educating and sharing the treasures of the Pacific Ocean as well as educating about and sharing many aspects of Hawaiian culture with visitors. At just over twenty years old, it’s a relatively new attraction in Hawaii, but already one of the best with more than sixty exhibits, a 750,000 gallon living reef aquarium, and the awesome 3-D encounter with humpback whales.

Maui Ocean Center

We arrived on Maui several hours before we could check in to our room at Peace of Hawaii and this was the perfect first destination.  My wife was deeply immersed in the important exhibit on Kaho’olawe, the Hawaiian island that the US Navy bombed into an uninhabitable wasteland. This was one of the most important of the inhabited islands to the Hawaiian people’s culture and yet somehow, some military genius decided that using it as a bombing range was a good idea – thankfully, Kaho’olawe is making a slow recovery thanks to the hard work and bravery of activists and preservationists.

Maui Ocean Center

Our 7-year-old loved the Turtle Lagoon, the touching tide pool,  and the living reef exhibit. Of course, seeing the sharks and rays and walking through the shark tunnel was a thrill for all of us. The 3-D whale encounter in the sphere was good but felt like it was a little bit short, which is probably a sign that we enjoyed it. 3-D technology is catching up quickly and I’m not sure how long this will still be amazing to anyone – but at the moment, it’s still well worth doing.

Maui Ocean Center

The Maui Ocean Center is open every day from 9am to 5pm. Admission is $35 for adults and $25 for kids ($34.95 and $24.95 +tax, so who are we trying to kid here?) It’s a bit steep in my opinion, but then admission to everything is expensive these days and the value here is quite good. Military and kama’aina get a 35% discount with valid ID.

Maui Ocean Center

The Maui Ocean Center is located at Ma’alaea Harbor on the West Side of Maui. From the airport it’s an easy 15-20 minute drive.

Reflections on Maui – A Decade Ago and More

When I first came to Maui, sometime in the early 2000’s – I was in awe. I’d grown up hearing about Maui – mostly in terms of Maui Wowee – but also about the beauty, how it was place the stars gathered, and one of the most spiritual places on the planet.

My first time here (because I’m here again as I write this) was a budget trip just to see the place. I stayed in hostels, hitchhiked around, swam, drank, smoked my first Maui Wowee and seriously felt the vibe. I don’t have pictures from that trip because I didn’t have a camera and in those days, there were no cameras on phones – but in fact, I didn’t have a phone at that point either.

However, it pretty much felt like this picture. It was awesome.

Maui hippie surfers

The next trip was totally different. Troubled relationship, four star resort, great food and wine, luxury experience but with personal and money issues. It felt more like this picture:

Unhappy rich guy on Maui

Then, there was a trip where I was working as a driver – taking PGA golfers on tours and to their tee times. I was a servant and I hated it – though there were moments like when one of them generously bought me a $150 Kobe Beef hamburger at the end of the Road to Hana.  That one felt more like this picture:

Maui Driver

After that, I had one trip where I stayed a couple of nights in Lahaina before going to Lanai. That one was a little bit like the first trip but without the carefree – more like I was looking for the carefree but still carrying all my cares. That trip felt like this:

Maui Lahaina Jump

Now, back again and I have to admit – Maui is a great reflector of what you are feeling in your life. It’s a bit like a magic mirror. I’ll be writing about Maui and the adventures and experiences I find here this time around – I’ll try to keep it to the facts and try to understand that what I experience here is still likely a reflection of my own inner experience – at the moment – it feels a bit like this picture – So far, so good!

Maui 2019

Banzai Pipeline – The World’s Most Famous Wave

Surfing OahuHidden just beyond the tiny sign that announces ‘Ehukai Beach Park’ is one of the world’s most iconic and undoubtedly the most famous surfing break in the world – Banzai Pipeline, variously known as ‘Pipeline’ or ‘The Pipe’. The wave itself is ancient but the name only goes back to 1961 when three California surfers stopped to film Phil Edwards riding a magnificent wave next to an underground pipeline construction project. The name stuck and in 1963 surf rock band, The Chantays, titled their pumping tune ‘Pipeline’ which cemented the name in place forever.

The beach had been known as Ehukai which means ‘sea-spray’ in Hawaiian for a long time. After World War II, locals began referring to the beach there as  Banzai Beach – Banzai was the word that Japanese kamikaze pilots shouted before crashing their zero fighters into enemy targets.  Both names come because of the fact that during winter, waves can reach as high as 30 feet (nearly 10 meters) high.

Banzai PipelinePipeline is a reef break. It’s a flat table top reef that has jagged spires and canyons. Waves travel thousands of miles from where they are generated by storms in Alaska or Japan and the first land they hit is the gently sloping undersea mountains of the Hawaii-Meiji Seamount Chain – which, hen it breaks the surface – becomes the Islands of Hawaii. The water is already being pushed upward when it hits the reef at Pipeline, but the sudden presence of the reef causes a dramatic upswell which is often preserved to amazing heights by the offshore winds blowing from land.

There are actually four surf breaks at Pipeline. There is Pipeline itself which is a left, then there is Backdoors which is a right – and when big water is coming in – there are the second and third reefs outside (further out). Pipeline is one of the most deadly waves in the world and there have been many deaths and injuries there. Imagine the damage from being in a swimming pool where the bottom is covered with broken glass – and then having another swimming pool dumped on top of you. That is roughly equivalent to being crushed by a huge wave at Pipeline.

Banzai PipelineThere have been many movies shot at Pipeline – perhaps the most famous was Blue Crush. Each one of the jewels of the Triple Crown of surf happens here – The Pipeline Masters.

The craziest thing about Pipeline is that in summer, it can be as smooth and calm as a lake and a perfect place to swim and relax in the water – jus watch out for the currents.

 

 

 

 

Saturday Farmer’s Market at Kapiolani Community College on Oahu

KCC Farmer's MarketKapiolani Community College on Oahu has a weekly farmer’s market that is a world class destination. It’s crazy, it’s crowded, it’s fun and it is DELICIOUS!  This weekly event is sponsored by the Hawai’i Farm Bureau and goes on rain or shine. If you are a Farm Bureau member, you get in early from 7:00-7:30 and can avoid the crowds. 

First of all – there is plenty of farm fresh produce – but don’t make the mistake of thinking that is all there is. There are food stalls that serve plenty of delicious foods from crepes to burgers to ‘Loco Moco’ to jumbo wild shrimp. The prices for produce are reasonable and for everything else – about what you would expect in Hawai’i, meaning you aren’t going to fill your belly for five bucks.

KCC Farmer's MarketStrolling through the market provides plenty of opportunities for people watching. In fact, you can see people from pretty much all over the world. China, Japan, Australia, Europe, North America, South America, India – it’s a global marketplace. There are usually local musicians out and plenty of culinary wonders that do a great job of demonstrating just how diverse and eclectic Oahu’s food scene is.

Give yourself a couple of hours to explore and eat and enjoy and while you are there, don’t miss the desert botanical garden nearby. It’s filled with some beauties!

Getting to KCC is easy, it’s on the back side of Diamond Head near the entrance to the crater, right across the street in fact. You can get a taxi, a bus, an Uber or a Lyft from Waikiki for just a couple of bucks. There is plenty of parking so if you have a car, driving is an option. Don’t forget to bring your own reusable shopping bags!

The KCC Farmers Market takes place in Parking Lot C at Kapiʻolani Community College  (4303 Diamond Head Rd.) every Saturday morning from 7:30-11:30. It’s free and has no entrance fee. 

Chinaman’s Hat – Oahu’s Politically Incorrect but Scenic Micro Island

Chinaman's HatAs you head up to the North Shore of Oahu on the Windward Side of the island, you will come to one of Hawaii’s most iconic landmarks. The little ‘sorting hat’ shaped island offshore from Kualoa Ranch has one of the least politically correct names in the U.S.A – Chinaman’s Hat. Okay, it’s not that bad and truth be told, there is a valid reason for the name.

The Windward Side of Oahu was heavily settled by Chinese immigrants who came to work in the sugar cane industry but then chose to stay and start their own farms. When the Chinese arrived, the island had a different name, but the locals who were already in place, noticed right away that their little island looked an awful lot like the wide conical sun hats the Chinese brought with them.

Rather than starting to call the hats ‘Mokoli’i hats’ – which may have happened at some point – the locals instead started referring to Mokoli’i as Chinaman’s Hat. There are some lovely stories and plenty of artwork that show a giant Chinese farmer living under the hat – with big catfish like Fu Manchu whiskers.

Chinaman's HatThe Hawaiian name for the island, Mokoli’i, means little lizard. There are some great folktales about it as well. My favorite of them has the sister of Madam Pele, being harassed by the lizard, who fell in love with her and wouldn’t leave her alone. Unable to get her suitor to leave her alone, she killed him and then picked him up and threw him up to Kualoa where he landed. His head and back are formed by the Kualoa Mountain and the tail falls into the water where just the tip of it pokes out.

Chinaman’s Hat is a popular destination for pictures. The water is nice but there is a lot of reef and coral and not much sand. Visiting the island is best done by kayak but it can be swam or snorkeled to. One word of caution if you plan to do that – this is a tiger shark breeding area – so pay attention to the signs and conditions.

Once you reach the island, there is a short 20 minute hike that will take you to the tip of the hat.

Waimea Valley Botanical Garden and Waimea Falls Hike on Oahu’s North Shore

Waimea Valley Waterfall Hike Oahu North ShoreIf you are coming to Oahu in the hopes of swimming in a waterfall, learning about the ancient Hawaiian culture, and seeing unique and beautiful endemic and indigenous plants and animals – plus doing a bit of hiking and enjoying beautiful gardens and tropical flowers – then you should probably head straight to Waimea Valley and Waimea Falls on the North Shore of Oahu.

This stunning 1800 acre park has one of Oahu’s most beautiful waterfall hikes, historical sites, reconstructed and preserved archaeological sites, botanical gardens filled with indigenous plants and native birds, as well as a wealth of friendly and knowledgable employees and educational displays.

At $16 per person – this is probably one of the most affordable and enjoyable activities on Oahu. There is a 1.5 mile round trip hike on a gently sloping paved path that leads to the falls. At the falls, swimmers are required to wear provided life vests and there are life guards stationed to assist if you get in trouble. Along the path there are plenty of side trails that will take you to hidden parts of the valley – or you can stick to the trail and explore the many educational displays along the way.

Waimea Valley Waterfall Hike Oahu North ShoreIn the visitor center there are frequent educational activities, a lovely gift shop, a good restaurant and always clean restrooms (as well as free wi-fi which you may need since there is no cell service in the valley). On Saturdays, the Pupukea farmers market is a fun and lively event with live music, plenty of great food, and a beautiful open lawn to picnic on.  The visitor center also hosts weddings and parties as well as concerts.

There is a great luau which takes place in Waimea Valley.

This valley was one of the main settlements of Oahu in ancient times and it is filled with rich archaeological sites. It was evacuated in 1893 due to heavy flooding and never recovered. The valley is a sacred ahupua’a to the Hawaiian people – that’s a land division.

Waimea Valley Waterfall Hike Oahu North ShoreThere are 41 different gardens in the valley containing more than 5000 different plants. For many of my visitors, this is the most fulfilling and memorable part of their journey to Oahu. In addition, it may look familiar because there were quite a few movies and TV Shows shot in Waimea Valley including Lost, Hawaii 5-0, 50 First Dates, Joe vs. The Volcano – and many more.

Details

Adults: $16
Children (4-12 years): 8
Seniors (60 years and older): $12
Kama’aina/Military Adults (ID required): $10
Kama’aina/Military Children: $6
Kama’aina/Military Seniors: $8
Annual Pass Individual: $50
Annual Pass Family (2 adults and up to 4 children under the age of 12): $100

Hours:
Open daily from
Closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.

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