The rain comes down in drenching sheets of water as our car slowly trundles down the road to Hana, on Maui’s remote eastern shore. It’s not my first visit to Hana, but it IS my first time arriving by land. Even on a sunny day, the serpentine road is an adventure, with hairpin turns and several small, one-lane bridges. The lush jungle all around is dotted here and there by thundering waterfalls. On the other side of nary a sharp turn we suddenly find ourselves overlooking steep cliffs and the choppy Pacific Ocean crashing ashore. If we’re not careful we might find ourselves crashing into an oncoming car. There’s a steady flow of tourist-filled rental cars and vans stopped along the sides of the road, their passengers getting out in frequent intervals to take it all in.
The big birds land in Kahului, on the windy side of the island, mostly from the U.S. mainland and neighboring islands. I had originally been booked on the last flight to Hana but was invited to tag along for a road trip by Jorah Anderson, Director of Sales for Hana’s star resort attraction, Travaasa, where we’re both headed. She’s fun, young, and attractive, so it’s a no-brainer. We’ve both had our post-flight Starbucks so there’s no lack of conversation. It turns out we know several of the same innkeepers in Belize, which couldn’t feel further away from here right now.
We arrive at Travaasa just before dark, the resort’s entrance flanked by glowing tiki torches. We’re welcomed with beautiful Hawaiian leis (mine is a very regal leaf lei). Jorah and I are then whisked away in a golf cart to our luxurious accommodations. We stop at hers first and she disappears into the night. “I’m going to order room service and pass out,” she says, her voice trailing off. “Goodnight.” Sounds like a good plan. Once in my own sea view cottage, I order a delicious salad, local grass-fed beef, and a glass of red wine. I fall asleep to the sound of rain ticking on the bungalow’s tin roof, waves crashing ashore, and palm trees creaking in the wind.
I awake the next morning to a glorious sunrise. The sea view cottages face east and the long rays of the rising sun bathe the grassy hills of Travaasa in warm, liquid light. On my lanai I find a giant, six-foot palm leaf left over from last night’s rainstorm. I take it as a good omen for the days ahead. As it turns out, I really do luck out with the weather. Well, mostly. My many visits to Hana to photograph various architectural spaces at Travaasa have taught me to take advantage of sunlight whenever I can get it. Hana’s location on the island’s east coast means it gets the bulk of the rain falling on the island. It can be sunny one moment and raining in the next 10 minutes.
For now, it’s pleasantly sunny as I enjoy the early morning light show from my lanai with robust Hawaiian coffee and delicious banana bread, which I found waiting for me the night before upon arrival. I’m a huge fan of Travaasa’s 25-yard pool, with its blue tiles and dark lava rock border overlooking the sea. I swim some laps to try and fight any remaining jet lag, then soak for a few minutes in the hot tub. It’s suddenly raining and I eventually get out and walk the few steps back to my cottage in the rain. It’s time for some breakfast. Room service? You betcha.
I could easily spend my entire time at Travaasa in my seaside cottage. It’s spacious and beautifully furnished. The living room has a sofa decorated in retro-chic geometric patterns. The cottage’s high ceiling keeps it cool, as do several ceiling fans. There’s nice art depicting lava flows and traditional fishing methods. The bedroom has its own access to the lanai, along with a comfy bed that seems to beckon me back to sleep. The bathroom has both a tub and stand-up shower and two vanities. All just for me.
When I eventually do make it out of my cottage the sun is back out and the skies have cleared. I borrow one of Travaasa’s vans and head over to the black sand beach, just a few miles down the road. Upon arrival, it’s obvious I’m not the only one deciding to visit Wai’anapanapa State Park today. The parking lot is jam-packed and there’s ongoing construction on the park’s grounds, to boot. With a bit of luck, I find a space and make my way down some stairs to the small sliver of black sand flanked by enormous lava rocks. There are easily 50 people on the tiny stretch of sand and I have to admit it’s not my first visit to a black sand beach so maybe the experience is lost on me. My parents hail from Guatemala and I grew up going to its black sand beaches, which feel vast and unfettered by comparison. I quickly decide to make my exit. Perhaps I’ll have better luck at another beach. I decide on Hamoa Beach, a beautiful stretch of white-sand beach flanked by a cliff about a 20-minute drive back in the direction of Hana. It’s really quite lovely and there are even staff from Travaasa on hand to provide beach towels and refreshments. Best of all, it’s nearly empty. Victory!
When hunger sets in, I set back for Hana. In addition to the Travaasa’s wonderful farm-to-table dining options, there is a varied assortment of food carts hawking myriad options from Mexican to Thai food around town. There’s even a popsicle cart run by a smiling Brazilian expat. The talk of the town is Thai Food by Pranee, a local operation that has evolved over my numerous visits to Hana. It finally seems to have found its place in the community and enjoys a good location with plenty of parking. It has become a requisite stop on the Hana circuit. The many favorable reviews online are not the least bit exaggerated. I enjoy a delicious curry dish on the patio and a light rain sprinkle. The food is as authentic and flavorful as anything I’ve had streetside in Chiang Mai or Bangkok.
I head back to the cottage, past a charmingly simple and dilapidated old baseball park, in the rain. I love the rain, and it gives me an excuse to go back to my Happy Place. But then, do you really need an excuse to never want to leave perfect beach accommodations with a patio and ocean view? I think not. And besides, that feeling of being on the edge of civilization is the reason I came to Hana in the first place.
My thoughts trail off, distracted by the soothing white noise of waves crashing in the distance. To be in Hana is to be, partly, in a dream. It’s a dream from which I don’t fully awaken until a few days later when my small plane lands, with a thud, back in Kahului.
By Al Alguerta