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there and back again

To paraphrase the movie Poltergeist, "weee'rreeee bbbaaaaccckk". Yes, Wife S.(from now on known as Mrs. Geek) and myself managed to survive our honeymoon on Hawaii, about $5K poorer but without memories of sunburnt agony. This entry and the one that follows tomorrow will attempt to sum up our adventures on the Hawaiian islands of Lanai and Maui.

Day 1 -- Getting there

The first leg of our trip was a direct flight from a major international airport in the continental United States to Honolulu. We were intially seated about 20 rows apart, but Mrs. Geek was able to be re-seated 7 rows from me thanks to a little "we're on our honeymoon" name dropping at the gate. She was then able to do a little wheeling and dealing on the plane and got the seat right next to me in Economy Plus -- oh that extra leg room is wonderful thing.

We were then supposed to make a connecting flight in Honolulu to get to Lanai and that connection proved to be a little unusual. Even though the itinerary said Aloha Airlines, the connection proved to be for a flight on a little commuter airline called Island Air. Even finding where the Island Air flights take off took some effort. First we went to the "inter-island" terminal thinking that was the place to be, but no, we were told to leave the "inter-island" terminal, turn left, and WALK to a single storey commuter terminal. Once there, no departure displays were operating that could have given us a clue about whether or not we were in the right building.

Mrs. Geek and I eventually did some asking around, found we were in the right terminal, and eventually ended up in this limbo of a non-descript waiting room -- gold, beige, and burnt ochre carpet and wallpaper straight out of the 1970's -- plus Hawaiian slack key guitar muzak. This decor was accompanied by announcements on a muffled PA system that always seemed to say "to Island Air customers on flight XXXX, your flight has been delayed for Y hours... please remain in the waiting area in case an earlier departure becomes possible." We were supposed to have a three hour layover in this avaition purgatory. It turned out to be 4.5 hours because our plane was late getting back from Molokai. In the end, we counted ourselves lucky. We met a woman on Lanai who was stuck in that waiting room for over six hours.

When we finally caught our flight errant, we arrived on Lanai just as the sun was setting. They really know on Lanai how to make you forget any problems you have getting there. There was a shuttle between the airport in Lanai City (if a town of 3000 can be considered a city) and the Manele Bay Hotel where we were staying, and, you basically do not have handle your own luggage after you get it from the airline. We just confirmed our reservation with the Manele Bay representative at the airport, tagged our luggage, and gave our bags to the shuttle driver. We got a cool, moist towel and a flower lei when we got off the shuttle and a mini-tour of the Hotel after we checked in. Our bags simply appeared in our room while we had dinner (I had steamed moi -- a trout-like fish with stir fried vegetables -- that was quite good.) We even got complimentary champagne -- more on that later, however.

We pretty much crashed after dinner. We were tired after about 13 hours of total travel time.

Day 2 -- Pounded by the surf

We managed to sleep in during our first morning on Lanai -- which is to say that we managed to sleep until about 7am, which was rather late considering the time difference between Hawaii and the mainland. Mrs. Geek and I took our time getting out of a very comfortable king size bed. We had the breakfast buffet at the hotel restaurant (the orange juice tasted INCREDIBLE) and then spent the morning at the hotel pool -- which we discovered was open 24/7 and had attendants that put out towels on chaise lounges for you during the day.

There is not a lot to do on Lanai. The whole island used to be owned by Dole and used as a pinapple plantation. Dole sold it a few decades back and the owners in the 1980's decided to turn it into a premiere vacation destination. There are two resorts on Lanai, Lanai City (whose size I already mentioned), and a lot of undeveloped land. That's it. When you stay on Lanai, you have very few choices about where to stay or what to eat. Accomodations are also generally astronomical in price -- but one of Mrs. Geek's cousins used to work for the resort company on the island and knows a manager at the Manele Bay. The two of them were able to get us a steep discount which allowed us to stay there.

About the only things you can do at the Manele Bay Hotel are sit by the pool, go to the spa, or walk down a path to the beach to enjoy the sand and the surf. Mrs. Geek and I were resolved to pursue the last option, and use some snorkling gear we bought especially for this trip before we left home. When we arrived at the beach, a hotel employee/guide pointed at what he said was the "good snorkeling area".

The guide was high. Mrs. Geek and I had never been snorkling before and the beach at Menele is rather steep. Yes, this does mean that one can snorkel just a few feet off shore but the surf is murderous. Plus, the tide was coming in. So, Mrs. Geek and I had a few pleasurable moments of snorkeling thanks to naivete and blind luck. Then Mrs. Geek got slammed by the surf onto the beach -- to the point that the surf threw her down and ripped off her mask and snorkel. Some local kids helped to fish her out and eventually found her gear. I lead her back out into the surf and we did ok for another very brief while, but then we both got hit. She didn't lose her mask but did lose a contact lens (thankfully she wears disposable contacts and had spares.) Mrs. Geek was badly shaken by that point and we returned to sit by the pool.

We later learned that we were misdirected by the hotel guide. By going further up the point from the beach, we could have snorkeled in tide pools that are easier to navigate. In fact, when we met with the hotel manager to thank him for arranging our accomodations, he said "we try to keep hotel guests out of the surf". I think that message needs to get passed down to where is really needed -- at the beach.

We spent the remainder of the day largely at the pool. It seems that The DaVinci Code is the required poolside reading this summer, as we saw no less than five people reading it. Me, I was going old school and was finally taking the opportunity to finally read Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum after three previous aborted attempts. I missed out on the chance to display some major poolside literary cachet though; Mrs. Geek's step-mom picked up a softbound copy of The DaVinci Code on a recent foray to Europe that is currently unavailable in the States. Everyone else we saw was reading the hardcover edition.

The rest of the day continued without event. We did hear from a couple other guests who also had been scared by the surf and Mrs. Geek was greatly comforted to find that she was not alone. We also met with the hotel manager - a big teddy bear of a guy who said he was "sorry that he couldn't meet us in person" when we arrived the night before. Given that we were simply grateful to be staying at this full service resort at all, being met by the manager would probably have been just over the top. We spent the evening in our room, using room service and consuming the complimentary champagne (we suspect the hotel manager at work here again) that we received the night before.

Day 3 - The ferry to Maui

This was our last morning on Lanai. We were ready to leave. We'd seen the hotel, experienced the amenities, managed to find some perspective after the madness of our wedding days before. We were looking forward to the next chapter of our trip -- five nights at the Renaissance Wailea Resort on Maui. There are two ways to get from Lanai to Maui, by plane (expensive) and by ferry (succeptible to the whims of weather.) As we were already pushing our budget to the limit, we opted for the ferry.

Since neither myself nor Mrs. Geek had ever been "to sea" before, we got some "less drowzy" dramamine at the hotel gift shop to avoid regurgitating our breakfasts. We took a full pill each. Big mistake. The dramamine kept us from being seasick, yes, but it also turned the both of us into walking zombies for the rest of the day.

We arrived from Lanai in the Maui town of Lahaina -- a picturesque little historic tourist trap that reminds me vaguely of the French Quarter in New Orleans (minus the strip bars, of course.) We hailed a cab that took us to the nearby Dollar Rent-A-Car location where we picked up the white Dodge Neon we would use for the remainder of the trip. The cabbie seemed to have an amateur interest in economics or accountancy; he spent the first 15 minutes of the 25 minute trip telling me why doing a "one way" car rental from the Lahaina side of the island to the airport in Kahalui was probably an expensive mistake. Until he factored in the cost of cab fare from Lahaina to Kahalui to pick up the car, that is. He then grudgingly admitted that we were probably taking the cheaper course.

The ferry left Lanai at about 10:30am and we arrived at the Renaissence Weilea at about 2pm. We had lunch at "The Maui Onion" -- their poolside lunch-time restaurant. As the name might suggest, one of the big things on their menu is the onion rings. They were excellent, prepared by (as we were told by our guidebook Maui Revealed) dipping sweet Maui onion in pancake batter and then coating with Japanese panko bread crumbs. They are some damn fine onion rings, I must say. We pretty much crashed for the rest of the day in a dramamine-induced haze.

Day 4 - Snorkeling redux

Mrs. Geek started this day with a certain amount of dread. We had arranged to take a snorkeling trip that morning aboard a large catamaran. Given our experiences with snorkeling on Lanai, she did not look forward to trying again. Our trusty guidebook, Maui Revealed, also said that the tour was not a good one, complaining about the age of the boat, the lack of shade on the boat, the schedule of the tour, and some of the practices of the crew.

While we see what the authors of Maui Revealed were talking about, Mrs. Geek and I concluded that they must have been usually grumpy when they tried the snorkeling tour. We had a fine time. Yes, you needed to make sure to load up with SPF 30 waterproof sunblock before heading out (something we did every day in Hawaii anyway), but, the rest was fine. In fact, we only had a small group of 20-30 people on the tour with us, and the tour seemed much more intimate and easy going than many of the other tour boats we saw that were each carrying a large hoard of people. Mrs. Geek had a very pleasant time snorkeling this time, in part because the wind and waves were calmer around Maui and in part because this time she was swimming from a boat toward shore instead of from the beach and through the surf. We even got to see a very large pod of about 100 spinner dolphins pass around the boat when we passed through LaPerouse Bay. We also took only half a dramamine each, and that was a much better dosage.

Since the snorkling tour only lasted until around noon, we took the rest of the afternoon to go to the Maui Ocean Center in Maalea. This is a nice little regional aquarium center dedicated to educating tourists about the flora and fauna found on Maui's coral reefs. As we had just been swimming off some of those reefs (and those of the neighborning Molokini caldera) that morning, it was interesting to put a few names to some of the fish we saw swimming in the wild.

We ended the day by going to the Maalea Waterfront restaurant. The place can be devilishly difficult to find owing to the odd geography of Maalea (Maui Revealed had incorrect directions) and lack of poor sign-age, but, it is well worth the effort. The restaurant is located in the cellar of a condo building very near the shore outside Maalea harbor. Once there, we were VERY impressed with both the service (two waiters aside from our own tried to make sure that Mrs. Geek and myself both found something on the menu we liked) and the wine list (it evidently won an award from Wine Spectator in 2003.) Although they have "Turf" as well as "Surf", the fish is the highlight -- the centerfold of the menu has about 12 different types of fish (six were available that night) down one side, and about 10 different cooking methods down the other. I had the Maryland-style crab cakes (served with a choice of two different sauces that night) and roasted salmon stuffed with crab for an entree. Mrs. Geek and I shared a delicious blueberry cheesecake with white chocolate ganache for dessert.

It is worth noting that I began to experience a lot of sinus problems on Day 4 because, well, it turns out that I'm allergic to Hawaii. I always had pollen-type allergies growing up in the land of my birth that got worse as I grew older. Thankfully, those same plants do not grow much in the metropolitan region where I now live and I have been largely allergy-free for the last decade or so (about a total of two weeks annually in May and August often excepted.) Hawaii is a pollen factory and my allergies were returning with a vengeance. This only proved to be an annoyance on Day 4, but got worse after that.

But that, as they say, is another story for another entry... so tune in tomorrow for tales about the remainder of our honeymoon trip.

said drgeek on 2004-07-08 at 3:22 p.m.

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