Thursday, February 10, 2011

Road to Hana

Known for its 600 switchbacks and 52 single-lane bridges, the road to Hana, on the northeast end of Maui, adjacent to the West Maui Forest Reserve, is situated in the last undeveloped swathe of land on the island, and the most remotely situated region in the state of Hawaii. Driving it yesterday, strip malls quickly gave way to sugar cane fields, which faded into vine-strung tropical rainforest where rainbow-bark eucalyptus trees and banyan trees alternated with impenetrable groves of bamboo. African tulip trees towered above, their mammoth crimson blossoms -- flame tongues -- clustered at branch-tips. I was in fern heaven: entire hillsides and banks of lush, giant ferns. Trying to capture any of it on film seemed hopeless: you just have to go there yourself.

Luckily, I was not behind the wheel. Paul, trained on the back lanes of Ireland, is a pro at narrow winding roads -- more than once he proclaimed "This is NOT a one-lane bridge!" Nonetheless, they were narrow, and most drivers perceived them as such, and the ever-accumulating quantity of them -- coupled with the fact that you have to go back on the same road (unless you have a 4WD) -- makes for some dizzying travel. I just did the math: 1200 sharp turns and 104 skinny bridges. Here's a detail from the map:

I guess that makes anyone who drives this road and back in a single day a saint. I hereby cannonize St. Paul the Husband. Down on your knees, heathens.

At a rest stop about a dozen feral cats made begging rounds among the pick-nickers. When a man threw a scrap to one of the cats, at least a dozen feral hens came sprinting out from the bushes -- and I mean sprinting -- and one snatched up the bit well before the cat was able to take possession. These were some tough old hens; easy to see who's at the top of the, uh, pecking order here!

We stopped for Kalua pig tacos at Up in Smoke, an open-air BBQ stand situated among a cluster of shacks in a clearing carved out of the jungle. Always on the lookout for ruins of a sort, I spied this car back in the weeds, with a smashed windshield, littered with African tulip blossoms, with a coleus growing out of the wipers.....

Most of all I was enchanted with the bamboo groves: I could live happily for the rest of my life surrounded by bamboo. I love the speed at which it strikes upwards to the sun, I love its scent, the texture of the green stalks, the sound of those thousands of leaves fluttering in a breeze. I love that it sends its rhizomes out horizontally beneath the surface of the earth, a secret that will not be controlled. I've grown it myself in large oak casks, but this just seems wrong: a plant in a cage that belongs in the wild.

We drove back in waning sun, left behind the black sand beaches, the glistening black crabs scuttling across lava rocks, the waterfalls, the 52 single-lane bridges. The brazen hens. Too soon civilization reappeared: a yoga studio, a coffee shop, a gallery. A three mile rush-hour traffic jam, luckily going the other way. Safeway. K-Mart. Wal-Mart. Home Depot. Had to remind ourselves that we still were in paradise, even though the road to Hana and its 600 switch-backs was, alas, behind us.


  1. what is that giant plant in the first photo? I love the sheer scale of plants like those!

  2. Don't know the name, but bear in mind that this is not a close-up! I was looking up at the towering plant. I kept recognizing giant versions of house plants I have known!

  3. i love your photographs! they are artworks. how do you make them?

  4. I love your photos! It really brought me back to when I went there with my wife last February. We drove the road to hana and absolutely loved it. We found ourselves stopping along the way at almost every overlook to take pictures. Absolutely beautiful! Thanks for sharing.