Recently, towards the end of a particularly spirited in-class discussion about gender, sexuality, and media, one especially bright student of mine sighed a dramatic, emotionally exhausted sigh: “I love sociology, but you can’t really enjoy anything can you..?”
As I understood it, this student was using the California-rhetorical “you,” a generalized subject as a proxy for “one” – one can’t really enjoy anything, presumably because of the ubiquitous and intersecting nature of various social-structural inequalities, can one?
“Weeell,” I replied, “It’s not that you can’t find pleasure in things. It’s just that you also gotta be mindful of the bigger picture.”
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I have always wanted to visit Hawaii.
But I’ve also always felt kinda conflicted about it – you know, colonization and all. And after reading snippets of insights from Haunani-Kay Trask…
I am certain that most, if not all, Americans have heard of Hawai’i and have wished, at some time in their lives, to visit my Native land. But I doubt that the history of how Hawai’i came to be territorially incorporated, and economically, politically, and culturally subordinated to the United States is known to most Americans. Nor is it common knowledge that Hawaiians have been struggling for over twenty years to achieve a land base and some form of political sovereignty on the same level as American Indians.
Finally, I would imagine that most Americans could not place Hawai’i or any other Pacific island on a map of the Pacific. But despite all this appalling ignorance, five million Americans will vacation in my homeland this year and the next, and so on into the foreseeable capitalist future. Such are the intended privileges of the so-called American standard of living: ignorance of, and yet power over, one’s relations to Native peoples.*
…let’s just say that vacationing all over someone’s homeland as a crass, lei-wearing tourist was the last thing I wanted to do.
But recently, the opportunity to visit Maui presented itself. I decided to embrace it. Strategically.
I would visit Hawaii. And I would attempt to enjoy, while being mindful of the bigger, far less idyllic picture…
(*excerpt from “Lovely Hula Hands: Corporate Tourism and the Prostitution of Hawaiian Culture” by Haunani-Kay Trask in From a Native Daughter: Colonialism and Sovereignty in Hawaii)
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I went to Hawaii with two resources: Yelp and a copy of Maui Revealed: The Ultimate Guidebook (6th edition).
As a regular may already know, Yelp is very personal. It’s not enough to just look at the stars – you gotta actually read the reviews, see why particular ratings were given, and then meter that information against your own personal tastes. In other words, that five-star-average McDonald’s is never gonna work for me, but the three star local brewery just might.
And re the book, I’ve actually never bought a travel guide a la Maui Revealed before in my life, but Nanciful and EC and Little Brother used it for their recent Maui trip and Nanciful is worldwide. I figured she knew what she was talking about when she recommended it. Plus, the authors are locals and the book contains no ads – major bonuses in my view.
I read the book pretty much cover-to-cover before my trip – lots of interesting history and cultural insights – but I noticed one major thing: everything Maui Revealed had to say made A LOT more sense after you were there for about a day. This is not surprising, just really noticeable.
I attempted to do two “touristy” things in Maui: the Haleakala sunrise bike trip and exploring the Molokini crater. Neither worked out exactly as planned.
Lots of tour groups do the Haleakala thing: pick you up at three in the morning, drive you 10,000 feet up to watch the sun rise over the freezing cold Hawaiian moon, then drive you out of the park to about 6,000 feet to bomb a mountain bike all the way back to the ocean. Awesome!!
Had I had access to my own bike and two cars, I would have done this on my own; however, circumstance necessitated I employ the assistance of Maui Mountain Cruisers (one of three providers recommended in Maui Revealed). I pre-booked my “tour” ($155 after online discount) and confirmed with them the day before…
…only to be left standing for 45 minutes at 3 AM (missed pick-up time of 2:15 AM)!! After calling about 15 times (no answer) and getting myself worked up into a completely non-Maui state of mind, I decided I would drive up the volcano my own damn self.
Which was actually way better!! It was literally arctic at the volcano’s summit (42 degrees Fahrenheit), and there seemed to be a lot of standing around and waiting going on. The Maui Mountain Cruisers van was there (jerks!!), and I thought long and hard about questioning the driver… but I figured it was better to watch the sunrise and take it up with dispatch later.
After reflecting, I think that the best bet for me would have been to rent my own bike, drive up for the fireworks, take a nap in the car, and then ride around the park on my own. (individuals are allowed to ride bikes around the park, commercial groups are not) Not the same as the whole downhill race thing, but there seemed to be so much shuffling around associated with the tour that I don’t think I would have liked it.
Oh and I finally got a call back from Maui Mountain Cruisers around 7 AM – apparently there was some sort of mix up with scheduling. Meh, but fine, but then the woman coordinator attempted to convince me it was raining on the volcano and the trip would have been canceled anyway. I admit I relished calling her on her bullshit there.
Though my tour didn’t get to go to the crater due to some pretty ridiculous off shore wind, my little snorkel trip in Maui was awesome!!
Via the magic of Google, I found the Pride of Maui Molokini trip. Though probably not for someone looking for a hardcore dive experience, this trip couldn’t have been more fantastic. The crew was nice and knowledgable, the snorkeling was good, the captain doubled as a bartender, and there was a pretty epic slide off the front of the boat.
I’m a decently experienced SCUBA diver, and SCUBA in this context would not have been worth it. The sites we stopped at were shallow enough that snorkeling was sufficient. Plus, SCUBA with so many people milling about (150+ passengers on the boat, some of them seeming very water inexperienced) would have made me nervous.
But for what it was – tame, fun, and super relaxing – I would 100% go on this trip on this particular boat again.
(ps ~$95 after online discount – this included great food from breakfast through lunch, cocktails, and all measure of snorkel and floaty equipment)
Some other things I did (not comprehensive)
Hana Highway – fine, pretty, but just a long curvy drive really
Jaws – fkkkkkkk (I just looked)
Tearing open my foot while running – not awesome
West Maui hike spots including some sort of jet-engine blowhole, Dragon’s Teeth (lava + wind!!), and the Olivine Pools (could not go in due to way too big of surf)
The South Maui town of Kihei, which was my favorite “inhabited” part of the island, various South Maui beaches, and a field of lava that was too unreal looking to believe!!
Good places I ate at (not comprehensive)
Kula Bistro, Kula – post volcano, this place and the little town of Kula in general were great (found via Yelp)
Mama’s Fish House, Paia – expensive as hell and you’d think it was touristy from the road and the name, but excellent and 100% worth it (found via Nanciful)
Sansei Sushi, Lahaina (found via Yelp)
Leoda’s Kitchen and Pie Shop, Lahaina – like being in Mississippi… but you’re in Hawaii!! (found via Maui Revealed)
Kihei Cafe, Kihei – heavy duty fruit and fat, delicious!! (found via Yelp)
Maui is kinda pricey. It’s also trafficy as hell – the mostly two lane roads with understandably low speed limits were a challenge for my LA road rage sensibilities.
Further, though it was suggested to me by others, I couldn’t bring myself to go to a luau. This pushed on the boundaries of my personal “tourist tolerance” comfort level, and insights from Trask made me really question the implications of such an event. So I skipped it.
In sum, I had a fun time in Maui. I appreciated the island’s beauty and culture and made every effort to support local merchants and services.
Maybe it was because it was “off season” or maybe it was because of where I was and what I was doing (or some combination thereof), but I didn’t notice too many touristy tourists, “ugly Americans,” etc. But that doesn’t mean they weren’t there.
Ultimately, there’s no way for a person to understand what is happening and what has happened in a community over the course of six days. There’s no way to fully comprehend the collision of cultures and histories that seem to have shaped Maui, and likely every other Hawaiian island, in a unique way.
In my view, my best efforts come from being respectful and open to history (and the present) while mindfully appreciating everything that’s unique and special about these Pacific islands. This goes for every other place as well.
Need guidance regarding sociology, feminisms, & social justice? Make an appointment for consultation services right here.
(pictured: somewhere in West Maui)
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