I had previously promised to share my stories and experiences from Hawaii, and now that I've been back at home in Texas for nearly 6 weeks, I think I'm ready to do just that. Any sooner would have been too painful for me. You see, my brief time (just under three weeks) spent in Hawaii opened up a new realm of self to me. I got to ooh and ahh over breathtaking scenery and experience deep gratitude and appreciation for this earth and everything God has put in it unlike I ever have before. I got to revel in my surroundings and listen to my inner thoughts. All the while sipping a mai tai of course. It was exactly the vacation that I needed- plenty of solitude and relaxation mixed with gluttony and adventure.
My Hawaiian vacation consisted of two legs: a week spent in Maui and a week (which "accidentally" turned into 11 days- we'll get to that later) on the Big Island. I'm lucky enough to have a grandmother who lives in Wailuku, Maui, but unlucky enough to have only been to visit her once when I was 16. I decided that I was indeed due for a visit. She graciously showed me around her beautiful island and introduced me to my favorite town in Maui- Paia, which is a charming surfer's village with this hippie-esque vibe that I found completely groovy. I spent a few days wandering around Kihei, Lahaina and Kaanapali Beach lounging, sunbathing, reading, eating, people watching. I like the down time every now and then where I can just sit and absorb what's going on around me. However, I like the thrill of adventure just as much. And I feel like my time is better spent sharing the details of that part of my trip as compared to talking about how many times I flipped from my stomach to my back trying to maintain an even tan.
With so many mountains, beaches and exotic terrain to cover, I decided to book two day tours to help me efficiently navigate my way around the island. First up, and perhaps the more exhilarating, was the sunrise tour to the top of Haleakala.
The tour began at 3 am so as to give us ample time to ascend the dormant volcano in time to make it for the 5:45 am sunrise. I was warned that the temperatures would be fairly chilly while atop the summit at roughly 10,000 feet, but that was certainly a gross understatement. It was simply freezing.
As I stood on Maui's highest point, shaking, shivering and turning blue, I witnessed a glorious sunrise consisting of spectacular colors- red, yellow, pink, blue- each color more vivid than the last.
After taking it all in, I set off on a mountain bike to descend the roughly 10,000 feet. I stopped frequently to take pictures or marvel at the view and then took a long break for a leisurely breakfast half way down the volcano at Kula Lodge.
I dined on eggs benedict made completely from locally sourced ingredients while sipping Hawaiian coffee and gazing down at the ocean.
After having been inundated with such an enormous array of breathtaking views, I didn't think my next tour along the road to Hana, a scenic drive toward the underdeveloped and less populated side of Maui, would possibly be able to live up to the experiences I had already participated in. However, I suddenly found myself astounded by the ever changing terrain and scenery. One moment open fields, the next sweeping mountains with plunging valleys followed by black sand beaches and tropical rain forests.
After driving for 2 hours or so along the narrow, winding road- the only way to Hana- we reached our destination. A part of the sprawling Haleakala National Park where the tour guide was going to lead us deep into this tropical paradise. The next several hours provided me with a visual feast. Gigantic banyan trees, 400 ft waterfalls, bamboo forests, natural fresh water pools, hibiscus in every color of the rainbow.
But what I found to be the most interesting was the sheer amount of edible vegetation that naturally grows EVERYWHERE. Besides the pineapples, papayas, mangoes and bananas I had seen along the drive, the rain forest alone offered coffee beans, guavas, and strawberry guavas (so delicious and tart!) hanging from every tree top just begging to be plucked.
The guavas filled the jungle with such a sweet and tantalizing fragrance that you almost wished one would drop from its perch among the trees' canopy, plop upon your head and release it's sweet, pink nectar, allowing it to slide down your nose and on to the tip of your tongue. Now you might wonder how I can find guavas more intriguing than, say, a 400 ft waterfall, but in this day and age with all the processed and manufactured food, there is something rather remarkably comforting in seeing Mother Earth provide so naturally for her children.
Although I partook in plenty of outdoor exploration, I allowed myself ample time to indulge in some of Maui's finest dining. While I try to steer clear of tourist traps when traveling, I do like to do some research and take the suggestions of reputable travel guides. After eating at a few "Hawaiian" restaurants (as a side note- pineapple and macadamia nuts do not a traditional Hawaiian menu make), I decided to seek out someplace that would serve me real Hawaiian cuisine. Enter Aloha Mixed Plate, a seemingly popular lunch spot that served, well, mixed plates. Despite being somewhat less than hungry, I ordered their largest plate, the Alii, which offered all the Hawaiian basics: lau lau, kalua pig, lomi lomi salmon, and poi. Well, let's just say it might have been a good thing that my appetite was not at its peak.
The lau lau pork, though tender from being cooked in laua leaves, had a strange seaweed like flavor and unappealing texture. The kalua pig had a nice smoky essence, but I found the rice and cabbage served along side it completely unnecessary. I understand they are both traditional sides, but must they be so impossibly bland? The macaroni salad... all I can say is, would you like some noodles with your mayonnaise? The lomi lomi salmon wasn't the worst thing on the plate, but definitely not anything I would miss. The worst thing was, by far, the poi. This grayish goo managed to be cold, bland, sour and salty simultaneously. The only possible solution to rid my tongue of this offensive flavor was to order another mai tai. (OK, OK, two). What was happening to me? When did I become so discriminating of food? At this point, I had frequently been finding myself critiquing and criticizing food and thinking of ways I would personally alter the dish to enhance it, assuming of course that I was fully capable of doing so. Maybe my increased cooking abilities I had gained over the last year were turning me into a food cynic...? Or perhaps I had developed a more sophisticated and fine tuned palate...?
Luckily, as it turns out, I'm only cynical of food when said food deserves to be critiqued and criticized. The Haliimaile General Store- a charming, no-fuss restaurant with spectacular food- helped me figure this out. I began my meal with the sashimi pizza: a crispy thin crust topped with edamame hummus, ahi tuna, shaved purple cabbage, crispy wonton strips, bean sprouts and a soy-sesame aioli. (Please pause to wipe that drool hanging from your bottom lip). For my second course, a beet carpaccio salad with Marcona almonds, golden raisins, caramelized onions, arugula and panko crusted goat cheese fried to perfection all topped off with a honey bacon truffle vinaigrette. Finally, I ordered the meyer lemon rosemary chicken as my entrée. A boneless half chicken, roasted, and served with wine poached pear, prosciutto wrapped asparagus and a caramelized onion blue cheese tart. That tart was easily my favorite item of the night. In fact, from now on I want a blue cheese tart served with every one of my meals. I savored every last crumb of that tart, and every last crumb of that plate to be more accurate and honest. I was so full and satisfied that I even decided to pass on dessert! That is until I looked over their dessert menu. One item caught my eye instantly: the rustic cherry tart with sour cream gelato. (I have mentioned my unhealthy obsession with sour cream to you before haven't I?) I almost gave in, threw caution to the wind, but I closed the menu and pushed it aside. There was simply no room left in my stomach. The button along my waistband begging to be freed from its button hole served as a much needed reminder that I still had well over a week left of wearing my bathing suit. In public. Just as I was patting myself on the back and signing the check, the manager approached and placed in front of me a small plate with an even smaller cookie seated next to a perfect little lump of sour cream gelato. It was as if he had read my mind.
My intentions with this blog are to include as many travel related posts as I possibly can (or can afford), accompanied by a travel inspired recipe. While most of my inspirations seem to come in the form of solid edibles, I felt drawn toward a cocktail this time. Perhaps those dozens of mai tais had more influence on me than I previously had thought...
However this drink was inspired by the brilliant colors of the Haleakala sunrise. I wanted the colors to be layered so I used a heavier substance for the bottom layer of this martini: puréed mango. So it might be best to think of this drink as a smoothie like cocktail. If you're one of those people who like to drink before noon (but may not like to admit it) this just might be the drink for you!
2 oz passion fruit vodka
2 dashes angostura bitters
1 large mango, peeled and cubed
1/2 cup pineapple juice
1. Purée mango and pineapple juice in a blender until smooth. Divide mixture among 2 martini glasses.
2. Place X-Rated liqueur, coconut rum, vodka, grenadine and bitters in a martini shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously and strain into prepared martini glasses. Enjoy!