Coming Down the Mountain - Page 3

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Sea level
David had told me about a hole in a certain fence off the Road to Hana that I needed to go through to get to a place few people visit. So I drive through the seaside town of Paia, past Mama's Fish House and Hookipa Beach, and soon I'm winding along the coast on the twisty path that is called the Road to Hana. I've come to sea level, and the air is thick with oxygen. The road is choked by tropical forest and connected by 54 bridges; the roadside is riddled with waterfalls. It's magical. But it's the secret path I've come to find. It appears just where David told me: "Look for a car or cars parked on the side of the road for what seems like no reason."

I pull over to the side of the road and see a hole in the chain-link and a dark path leading into a thicket of bamboo. I step in. At first it's confusing. The path is narrow. I can't really tell which way I'm going. I have to brush aside thin branches with my arm. After a few hundred feet the path suddenly opens up, and I'm in a cathedral of bamboo – hundreds of acres of bamboo that creak and crack with the wind. The sunlight comes through this world in shades of green. Everything is straight and vertical. I walk on. The path takes me over rivers and streams, and I see no other person. The deep hush is my only companion. It's almost as if I've popped through to a parallel Maui. The path leads deeper to a big pool and a secret waterfall. It's hot and humid, and I've got a good sweat going by this time. Clearly alone, I strip down and wade into the water. The transforming coolness wraps itself around me like silk. I float on my back, looking up at the thousand shades of green that define the canopy. When I close my eyes, I imagine the island as a being, curled atop the vast ocean. I feel like I am floating in the arms of the island, embraced, if only for this fleeting time. If I didn't follow a path to this place, I'd swear I was the only human to ever discover it. The only urgent movement comes from the waterfall rushing over its drop to find the calm of the pool, and I can't imagine another place I'd rather be. Later, I sit by the pool to dry off and let the Maui breeze carry away each drop of water from my body before I get dressed and leave. When I finally make it back to the car, it's dark and, looking back at the fence, I can't see the hole. I wonder if it only opens for travelers it wants to allow to enter. As I drive away, I think of the hundreds of cars a day that pass by this bamboo portal without blinking, looking straight ahead for the next roadside waterfall. And just like that, I've joined them.

I awake the next morning at the Hotel Hana-Maui in the village of Hana, on Maui's far eastern shore. The sun has not yet risen, and I imagine the travelers atop Haleakala, wrapped in their blankets. I put on my shorts and walk down to a red sand beach. Waves lighten the shore, and it's about 10 minutes before I notice that there's another person on the beach. He's like a ghost. He's wearing leaves from a local bush on his ankles, wrists and head. He's standing on a black volcanic rock and, occasionally, a crashing wave sends foam washing over his feet. When it does this, it looks as if the surf rises from out of the volcanic rock like a breath exhaled, then slips away in the same manner. He looks out over the ocean as if he's willing the sun to rise, but I don't know. He could be doing anything. He doesn't acknowledge me and, almost imperceptibly, he lifts his chin. I look out over the ocean and, as I blink, the sun has lifted itself from the dark. One by one the stars flicker out, and the eternal battle begins again. Only then do I realize why David and Denise and the others who have come to call Maui home have only penetrated the surface of Maui's magic – why, after more than a dozen trips to this island, I have only begun my journey. I have only just been given the privilege of feeling Maui, like soft, lingering touches from a first love – the kind that hang in the memory, pure, genuine and unforgettable for a lifetime. And with each rise and fall of the sun that occurs while I'm away, I'll sit at home, lost in thought, wondering if one day the surf will rise from the rocks for me.

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