Aug 032011

When deciding whether to spend 80,000 miles for a First Class ticket, compared with 40,000 for economy, there are several considerations: bigger seat, more leg room, free food and beverages, no checked bag fees, priority at the baggage carousel, and getting off the plane first. But I think the main benefit is being treated as an individual human rather than carbon-based cargo. It certainly makes for a more relaxing (if still interminable) morning. Maui’s Kahului airport is notoriously windy, and our big 777 suffered a few bumps and jiggles on the way down, but we landed safely and walked out into the full heat and humidity of a Maui Summer. 

My first stop was Bio-Beetle, an ecologically conscious car rental company specializing in biodiesel Volkswagens; they also rent the Prius for those who prefer gasoline (or Toyota reliability). I chose the Jetta TDI, which turned out to be a handsome dark gray color. Some waiting was involved: Bio-Beetle is a friendly “mom and pop” operation that doesn’t run on a tight schedule, but I was soon on my way to find some lunch. (Note: they also rescue cats, so if you are very allergic to cats, you might not want to visit their office.)

I drove about 10 minutes up the road to Wailuku to have lunch at A Saigon Café, a favorite local Vietnamese restaurant. As I started searching the menu for something deep fried crunchy or barbecued, a waiter came over and insisted that I try the duck noodle soup. That seemed crazy when it was so hot out, but I found his entreaties hard to resist. The broth was the color of caramel and fragrant with star anise. Delicious, and not too rich. The duck leg itself was falling-off-the-bone tender. I worked up a sweat eating it, but the internal heating effect wore off by the time I drained my ice water.

Our check-in time at the house wasn’t until 3:00. To keep cool, I enjoyed the air conditioning and an iced tea at a Starbucks. And used the wireless to answer a few emails. When I showed up at “Hale Leilani” at 2:45 to drop off my bags, they were just finishing their clean-up. I wandered around taking inventory (we could used some paper towels and bottled water) before heading back to the airport to meet my party.

You shouldn’t have to be in a tour group to get a Hawaiian greeting, so I stopped at the K-Mart to pick up a few leis for the ladies, and sprung them on them at baggage claim. Then we split up: the new arrivals proceeded to Alamo while I hit up the Kihei Safeway for essentials.

Back at the house, we assigned bedrooms and started the difficult task of cooling the house. The layout, on two levels, is somewhat disorienting. There is a large family room/dining room upstairs, next to the kitchen and a small work area. (That’s also the location of the wi-fi router.) There are bedrooms and bathrooms in both directions from the central area. Downstairs, there is a smaller kitchen and sitting area, and more bedrooms and bathrooms in different directions. This odd design probably was the result of a few additions, and as a result, the A/C does not reach all of the bedrooms. This resulted in some seriously hot accommodations for those of us beyond the reach of A/C.

For dinner we caught up on our plate lunches at Da Kitchen Express. On previous trips, this humble spot has been my favorite for island-style teriyaki chicken. Three boneless chicken thighs, deeply marinated in teriyaki sauce and flame broiled, are served in a Styrofoam take-out box with a sizeable scoop of potato-macaroni salad and a double-sized scoop of rice. It’s enough for two, but George and I split that and the heaping kalua pork plate, featuring a moist and smokey (and slightly less fatty) version of the luau favorite. We kept some of it for later and helped with the crispy chicken katsu and Chinese chicken salad. (The chicken salad seemed to feature shavings of teriyaki chicken, but the flavor is not as good cold.) Sorry, no photos. I’ll have to go back. Falling short of local eating standards, we left with almost half of the food.

On the way home, we stopped at the Foodland for pineapple, papayas, bananas, yogurts, snacks, and other essentials. The main reason to shop at Foodland rather than another market closer to the house is the fish counter’s extensive selection of poke: cubes of raw tuna, slices of octopus, or various other cooked seafood mixed with onions, soy sauce, and/or other seasonings. When I had investigated at 2:30, there were more than 8 choices, but by this hour, only two looked good: ahi (yellowfin tuna) with shoyu (soy sauce), sesame, and green onion; and slices of octopus with white onion, green onion, and chopped kukui nuts. Both have tiny flecks of red pepper. I love poke and papaya for breakfast, so I have everything I need.

We planned to rise early to get into the ocean at a nearby reef. I’m saying let’s shoot for 8 so we can leave by 9. We’ll see whether that works out.

To navigate, use the next and previous links at the top or bottom of the post, or click here: First Snorkel.

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