Becoming a Believer - Page 2

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 (Ty Sawyer)

A couple of green sea turtles make their way in from the open ocean to rest in the shadows of an overhang, and a manta ray makes a close pass; it's graceful, nonchalant majesty makes it look as if it is actually riding atop the booming, leaden tune of a nearby whale. When the current deposits us at the far side of the crater we are breathless, despite having put little physical effort into the dive.

Andrew, feeling a bit like a wild man at the end of a roller coaster ride, wants to turn around and do it again. I sit on the surface with my head half submerged in the water and listen to the madcap mix of whalesong, seabird squawks and chattering divers as the spirits of the two worlds of Maui come together in my mind. We've just had a singular experience in a world where a rowdy and uncontrollable entropy rules, and I want to let it soak in for a while.

When we dive inner Molokini the same feral aspect of the sea manifests in a much more comical manner. Upon descent, we're nearly overrun by a voracious herd of lemon butterflyfish as they pass over the volcanic substrate snacking on the algae that grows in the sunlit shallows. Garden eels undulate in the sand at 70 feet as if buffeted by unseen winds. We follow an octopus as it pours itself, in the way they do, over, around, under and through the cracks and crevices of the seafloor, changing color and texture the entire way. At the end of the dive, as we look up, a manta ray passes through the sun at the surface in a perfect silhouette.

This is the beauty of Maui: It is raw and untamed. You can find yourself driving down a one-lane road looking for a hole in a fence that will grant you access to the bamboo forest. There are no signs, no tour buses, no neatly marked paths. Then in the next moment, you're lying on a massage table at the Westin, sipping tea or champagne or taking a sunset sail on Trilogy's catamaran. All of that infrastructure that I thought was going to prevent me from seeing the real native beauty of the place really just enabled me to choose how much of an explorer I felt like being that day.

When I first arrive at the Kaanapali resort on Maui and manage to get all my crap inside, wash the airplane funk off my face and walk outside to take in the view, I'm overwhelmed. The sun has begun to sink in the sky, creating that warm golden hue of the hour or so before sunset. Andrew and I sit in the cool grass for what seems like ages until the darkness comes to spoil the show, leaving only the sound of the waves against the shore to mar the stillness.

The next morning we hop in the car and drive up to Tedeschi Vineyards. As we meander along the winding road I realize how much a 20-minute drive into the mountains can change the face of the island. This is cowboy country, where paniolos – Hawaiian cowboys – still herd cattle in the old town of Makawao and the surrounding area known as Ulupalakua. Suddenly we find ourselves in a small general store that looks more Rocky Mountains than Pacific ring of fire – the Ulupalakua Ranch Store. Small Christmas lights line the ceiling and country crafts are on display. I feel myself start to swagger the minute I walk through the door, and Andrew asks if my southern accent is going to come out long enough to embarrass him. But at this store, I end up leaving with, among other things, coconut candy and a package of macadamia nuts – apparently beef jerky takes a back seat in these parts.

After we load our car full of food we drive the final mile or so to the vineyard. They're famous for their pineapple wine, but we discover that the vino from the grapes is nothing to sneeze at. Even aside from the wine, though, the location is well worth the trip. There are beautifully landscaped grounds with old stone buildings, some dating back to the 1800s. They offer tours of the ranch, but we found it more peaceful just to wander around and have an impromptu picnic in the shade of the huge trees.

These mountainous areas on Maui, the upcountry as they call it, remind me of the northern California coast. It's quiet, with the lovely smell of eucalyptus in the air and quaint houses lining the streets. It is a nice complement to the surfer-lined beaches that surround it. This is also the area we biked through after the amazing sunrise at the crater.

We stop for breakfast at a little restaurant surrounded by an incredible garden that stretches down the side of the mountain. Over eggs benedict and an espresso we decide to spend the afternoon driving the road to Hana. This is on one condition however; you see, Andrew is a horribly distracted driver, and I'm not about to give him the wheel on a winding road that's lined with some of the most appealing scenery around. He argues but eventually agrees, so, after reluctantly turning in my quite fashionable helmet to the guys at the Haleakala Bike Company, we head for the other side of the island to change gears from the relaxing breakfast and get our hands (and our shoes) dirty.

It has been called the most beautiful drive in the world, and I understand why after the first mile or so. We begin at an intersection where a homeowner has built his entire fence out of colorful surfboards – a sight you will see only in Hawaii. The road winds its way around sheer cliffs that drop into the sea, and you pass waterfalls and gardens so beautiful they're named after Eden. The shade of green is so heavy along this road you literally inhale it with every breath, and we absolutely must stop every 20 feet or so to trudge down a muddy trail and take a photograph. We are completely covered in mud within 10 minutes.

There is a stillness about this part of the island that you can find nowhere else. Sometimes silence is the loudest thing you hear – especially in the bamboo forest, which is one of the hidden secrets of the drive. But it remains hidden, for now, until we go to church and see the pyramids.

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